Penn State leaders hosted a virtual town hall for parents and students on Monday to clarify any concerns about the university’s "Back to State" plan for returning to school in the fall. Some students say their questions remain unanswered.
Penn State President Eric Barron told town hall viewers the university took feedback from thousands of students, faculty, and staff to make the best decisions for the university and surrounding community.
“We are doing everything we can to deliver a high-quality education within a difficult environment, and we are committed,” Barron said.
Sophomore anthropology major Jarod Yu is both eager and nervous to return to Penn State. The Levittown, Pennsylvania native is looking forward to life in his new South Halls dorm, but Yu wonders how the university will hold students accountable.
“I would like to think people will wear the masks, but I think some people really do just say ‘I don’t really care,’” Yu said.
Penn State will require students to wear masks in classrooms, on campus, and downtown this fall. Yu says it’s a promising idea, but enforcement will require the full attention of campus police to keep students in check.
“You see the cops around all of University Park and they get people for skateboarding all the time," Yu said. "I feel like if you’re going to enforce something, maybe the mask policy is more important to focus on.”
Yu has self-quarantined since March. His father is at risk with a heart condition, and though Yu thinks remote learning after Thanksgiving break is a smart idea to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at University Park, he fears returning home may not be safe for his dad.
“I’m a little worried that if I come home for Thanksgiving, possibly being a carrier, if he might get affected,” Yu said.
Unlike Yu, junior security risk analysis major Jon Flatley has not quarantined and has instead worked through the pandemic at a Giant supermarket near his Lancaster home. Flatley has seen how some shoppers wear masks and stay socially distant while others do not, and he envisions a similar situation for Penn State students.
“It’ll be almost like a courtesy thing and most students will follow it, but I think the second people get outside, they’re walking from class to class, they’ll have them off,” Flatley said.
Penn State also wants students to self-quarantine for two weeks before returning to campus. Flatley wonders how that will work for students traveling large distances to come back to State College.
“I don’t know how effective that’ll really be by the time you actually get here," Flatley said. "Maybe if they did it where you had to be on campus for two weeks quarantining, but again it’s something you can’t really enforce.”
For those who live on campus, housing regulations will allow no more than two students per dorm room, and immunocompromised students will be given priority for single rooms. No overnight guests will be allowed in residence halls, and visitors and speakers will be discouraged from visiting campus, especially at the beginning of the semester.
Back in the Philadelphia suburbs, sophomore Norristown native Dulce Gonzalez intends to come back to school and live in the Nittany Apartments this fall. With changes to dining commons including limited seating, mobile ordering, and increased carry out options, Gonzalez imagines she will stay away.
“I don’t think I am going to be eating on campus as much," Gonzalez said. "I think I would just be making food in the apartment in the kitchen, and if I have to eat on campus, I’ll probably get to go.”
President Barron noted Penn State will also begin a contact tracing system with University Health Services and will isolate students infected with COVID-19 at the Nittany Lion Inn. Gonzalez, Flatley and Yu all agree this system, which requires students to say in an interview who they’ve been in contact with, could prove troublesome as students often choose to protect their friends.
Despite difficult circumstances, students like Flatley say they’ll do what it takes to return to Happy Valley.
“I’m just really excited to get back," Flatley said. "I don’t think a lot of the stuff they will be able to enforce as much as they plan, but if we need to follow those guidelines for us to be back, I know I 100% will.”
And as a huge basketball fan, Flatley says if he’s allowed he’ll be in the front row at every game.