It was Fun While It Lasted: The Trainwreck of a College Start

College is always rough. It’s a new experience, a new place, and there’s more to do. This year, we’ve had to deal with COVID-19. Though we know that this virus transmits through respiratory droplets and touch, some colleges around the country decided to ignore these facts and open in person. However, that didn’t go according to plan, and those places had to move back to virtual learning. Even with all of these universities switching to an online curriculum, the University of Wisconsin decided to have a go at in-person learning and try a hybrid format—some classes and days were virtual and the others were in person. Unfortunately, as soon as school started, cases in Wisconsin skyrocketed due to students not following safety guidelines. Officials at UW started facing backlash because they opened school. To prevent the situation from worsening, they tried to reinforce fines, pass stricter health guidelines, and put students in isolated rooms, but it was all to no avail. Two weeks after the grand start, UW is now virtual. So how did this ordeal go with UW-Madison?

September indicates the start of freshmen moving into UW-Madison’s University Housing. Many freshmen look forward to this time of year to start a new chapter. Roughly 90% of freshmen move into UW-Madison dorms each year to experience the living on campus experience and to gain a sense of individuality and independence. It comes with advantages such as being able to get to classes quicker, studying in libraries, and meeting new people. Living on campus has many perks apart from work like enjoying the beautiful campus, eating dinner at Union South, getting ice cream at Memorial Union, etc. But one perk that most freshmen look forward to the most is the campus parties. 

Unfortunately, that partying is what got us to the train wreck. Many students came to live on campus to enjoy the full experience of college, and for some that also meant ignoring the mask mandate as well as the social distancing. To address the problem, more students were tested for COVID-19, and two of the notorious “party dorms” were put into quarantine. As the problem escalated, students who live in fraternity/sorority houses were required to get tested by September 11 unless they had tested positive for COVID-19 within the past 90 days and weren’t experiencing symptoms. 26 out of the forty chapter houses were forced to quarantine. A fine was also put in place stating that “[students] may also receive a court order to quarantine and/or a fine of up to $10,000, according to Public Health Madison and Dane County” if they didn’t follow COVID health guidelines. As of September 12th, over 1800 students tested positive and 2200 were quarantined with 85% of Dane County’s cases from UW-Madison. 

Students started getting desperate and some believed that if they got COVID once, they wouldn’t have to deal with it again, so they tried to intentionally contract it. Dean of Students Christina Olstad advised students not to do so because it’s “unsafe and irresponsible.” This process is especially unsmart because by contracting COVID, you affect others around you and there’s not much known about how the immune system reacts with COVID-19. 

Around 8 college students varying from sophomores to juniors were asked to answer questions about how they felt about the trainwreck at UW Madison. When asked their preference between online and normal school, the majority of students preferred in-person school for various reasons such as seeing friends and interacting with professors. The rest believed online school had it’s pros and cons like having more freedom but lack of collaboration, having a set schedule, and not really learning anything. But all 8 students believed that hybrid learning wasn’t worth it and that it was poorly executed. Because of the opening of classes, none of the students were surprised when UW- Madison had to switch back to only online school after just two weeks. Students were interviewed who had or knew people having classes in person and noticed that rarely anyone had masks on outside and were not socially distancing indoors. As for the dramatic increases in cases, students are scared for their friends living on campus but equally angered at UW Madison for allowing students to move back in. 

After a lot of thinking and debating, UW decided to open. Though other colleges didn’t have good outcomes, the university opened and learned its mistake. Now, students are learning virtually and some are questioning the value of learning online while paying from $10,000-$40,000. All we can hope for the future is for this issue to resolve and for this trainwreck to not happen again. It might’ve been fun while it lasted, but was it worth it?

By Lavenia Vulpal & Anvika Annyapu

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