Since mid-April, Vassar College has seen a large spike in COVID-19 cases on campus. According to the COVID-19 dashboard, active cases have increased from 22 cases on April 24 to 111 active cases on April 30. While the number of cases has declined with the reinstatement of the mask mandate in all indoor spaces, the spring semester still dates as having the highest number of on-campus cases ever, with 568 students infected and 145 employees.
The College’s COVID-19 policies have become subsequently overwhelmed, according to many students. Preston Bowe ’24, a student who tested positive for COVID-19 recently on May 12, explained: “There were no hotel rooms left, so I’m isolating in my own room. I feel a little weird about it, because I still share a bathroom with all the people on my floor, and I still have to leave the room to get food.” He added, “It’s been really weird having [COVID] at the end of the year, because I can hear everyone moving out, but I don’t get to say goodbye to anyone.”
Bowe expressed frustration with the College’s faltering protocol and the overall relaxed attitude towards the pandemic that has accompanied the end of the year. He is not alone: In a written correspondence, Ziggy Robles ’22 said, “I feel upset that Vassar is leaving a lot of seniors with a bad impression, including myself.” They named Founder’s Day as a primary culprit in the spread, since the College did not mandate testing before or after the event where the majority of the student body congregated in large groups, sometimes indoors. They further explained in a written correspondence that of their friends who did contract COVID-19, many were sent back to campus after five days of isolation, despite showing symptoms: “WHY SEND THEM BACK IF THEY ARE STILL CONTAGIOUS! How were they expected to eat, shower, and wash-up? They were bound to expose at least a few other people during that process.”
Robles pointed out that several students have had to navigate testing positive alongside studying for finals. “No one wants to reschedule, and it makes [it] harder for people to study/prepare for those things. I feel bad for the folks who have had to deal with administration making real stupid decisions leading up mass gathering events,” they wrote. Bowe echoed these grievances, sharing: “I sleep for most of the day, so I honestly have not been getting my finals done in the most timely manner.”
Sam Goldstein ’25, another student who tested positive during finals week, agreed that studying was more difficult in his self-isolatory hotel room. “The whole reason I tested in the first place was that I was super fatigued and couldn’t focus, and that didn’t change when I got to the hotel. Really this means I lost several precious studying days, and the extensions weren’t enough to make up for that,” Goldstein wrote.
Commencement, a time of joy and celebration at the end of the school year, makes way for larger gatherings—a risk given the high number of cases. In an email correspondence, Associate Vice President for Communications Gladwyn Lopez detailed the Commencement plans as follows: “Commencement is progressing as planned and this year it will resemble a traditional, pre-pandemic Commencement. Unlike pre-pandemic Commencements however, we will not allow family and/or guests of graduates to stay overnight on campus.”
Although the College is trying to keep events at a minimal capacity, Robles pointed out some inconsistencies in this plan such as the Senior Formal, one of the first major events on schedule, that allows anyone to bring a plus-one guest. “I wouldn’t be surprised if masking and testing weren’t mandated for the senior week events leading up to graduation. I could only imagine how tragic it would be for some folks to get sick before graduation and be forced to miss it.” Robles mentioned that while they are comfortable with the knowledge that the majority of the Vassar population is vaccinated, they think more precautions are very necessary during Senior Week and the graduation ceremony.
For students staying on campus over the summer, like Sasha Zweig ’25, the rise of COVID-19 cases has been of great concern. However, Zweig maintains that with a smaller on-campus population, the College will be better equipped to handle this recent spread of COVID-19. “I think part of the challenge was balancing the importance of student health and safety with a quality education on a large scale. In the summer, there won’t be as many students on campus and Vassar isn’t under pressure to hold finals or in-person classes, so I am hopeful that this will help ethical protocols of contact-tracing and quarantining to be followed,” she wrote. Zweig believes that pandemic burnout is a problem not only at Vassar, but everywhere, leading to looser health restrictions.
According to Lopez, the College will not be making many amendments to COVID-19 plans over the coming months. “With most non-senior students having left campus for the summer break, we do not foresee any significant plan updates in the short term and will continue to follow CDC and state and local public health guidelines for higher education. Plans for the fall will be announced as we get closer to the start of the semester.”