OPINION: As colleges reopen, will students take risks to heart?

A video taken the weekend before classes begin at the University of North Georgia shows students partying at an apartment complex near the campus without masks or social distancing. This is a still from the video
A video taken the weekend before classes begin at the University of North Georgia shows students partying at an apartment complex near the campus without masks or social distancing. This is a still from the video

Viral video of University of North Georgia students at packed party this weekend raises concerns

Rick Diguette is a writer and part-time college English instructor, In this piece, he talks about his return to the classroom next week at Georgia State’s Dunwoody campus.

Diguette wonders if students understand the risks of COVID-19, a question many Georgians are asking after watching a viral video of University of North Georgia students at a crowded party at an apartment complex in Dahlonega Saturday night.

Students were not wearing masks or social distancing at the large outdoor event. The party was not on campus property, but at a nearby complex where many students live. UNG has expressed disappointment in the students’ behaviors. As with all public colleges in Georgia, UNG requires face masks on campus.

By Rick Diguette

Next week I return to the classroom at Georgia State University’s Dunwoody campus, there to teach the first-year composition course I’ve taught many times before. The university has provided me with the masks I will be required to wear while on campus and in the classroom―made in China, just in case you were wondering. My students should have received their masks by now as well.

Speaking of my students, I will meet with them in person only 25% of the time this semester, or with no more than five or six on any given day. The university has decided that limiting the number of students in a classroom is one way to promote their safety as well as that of their professors. This means that the rest of the time we will meet online, teaching and learning remotely. It is not a perfect solution by any means.

Rick Diguette
Rick Diguette

A report published last year documented the many concerns associated with online learning that have plagued the industry for years. Chief among these are the “increasing gaps in educational success across socioeconomic groups” and the fact that “students with weak academic preparation . . . consistently underperform in fully-online environments.”

Proponents of online learning are typically quick to point out that those shortcomings also apply to face-to-face instruction. Indeed, socioeconomics and weak academic preparation have long been the handmaidens of academic underperformance whether students are receiving instruction online or in a traditional classroom setting. Affluence, or the lack thereof, can and often does affect every facet of learning. But that debate will have to wait for the time being.

Last week I posted a short video at my online class page, reminding students that in order to succeed this semester they must have a desktop, laptop or tablet with reliable Internet access. Some of them had already visited the page, which is a good sign. It suggests they are eager to get started and perhaps also aware that staying informed is always a good idea.

I may post another video before the semester begins about COVID-19, and in that I’ll emphasize the importance of physical distancing, mask wearing in public places, and frequent hand washing. We don’t know everything there is to know about the virus, so taking those precautions shouldn’t be too much to ask while we continue to learn more.

It is also the case that many young people view COVID-19 as no more threatening to their health than the annual flu bug. News reports have shown them frolicking on beaches, partying in crowded bars, and in general ignoring the advice of health experts. They’ve been slow to recognize the role they can play in the transmission of this virus that has now killed almost 170,000 people in the United States.

I may also put in a good word for their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and people like me. Unlike many my age, my health is excellent and based on family history there’s a good chance I could live another 25 years. But I need to stay healthy if that’s ever going to happen. I’m 66, which means there is a greater risk that contracting the Covid-19 virus could make me extremely ill, or worse, end my life.

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