COVID restrictions have negatively affected our school culture and our mental health – The Williams Record
As we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Williams experience has been fundamentally altered by the social restrictions imposed by the administration on our community. For many students, the strong community connection idealized in admissions materials and alumni anecdotes were among the main reasons we were drawn to Williams. However, the personal and intimate Williams culture of the pre-COVID era has been replaced by a widespread sense of isolation under the public health regime. The eradication of COVID has supplanted education and community promotion as the primary focus of our institution.
Listening to Williams alumni recount their College experiences during my winter study course, it became incredibly clear how Williams’ public health measures isolated us from each other and weakened the bonds that defined culture. Williams. I’ve come to understand that these bonds are forged from quick interactions before class starts, casual conversations at Sawyer, and friendly banter in dorm hallways. However, we are deprived of those intimate personal connections that are essential to forming a community – forced to retreat behind our face coverings and lock ourselves in the seclusion of our bedrooms.
The most detrimental change in the Williams community is how fear has replaced trust as the dominant feeling on campus. When students deviate from overly restrictive public health policies, we find ourselves in an environment of secrecy. Peers are seen as potential whistleblowers and faculty and staff are seen as COVID cops. Student leaders such as Junior Counselors (JAs) and Team Captains have had to shoulder the burden of enforcing masking and COVID rules, engendering mistrust among the campus communities in which they serve. COVID eradication policies have us turning against each other.
Forcing young people into endless social isolation has dramatic consequences. Our country now faces a widespread youth mental health crisis. College administrators across the country are struggling to meet the rapidly increasing demand for mental health services among students due to their COVID policies. Nonetheless, the Williams administration refuses to significantly change its policies despite the direct link between its social restrictions and the mental health issues facing its students. Our struggle becomes a necessary cost in the battle against COVID.
But when two weeks become three months, which become three years, how can we maintain hope for a better future that even vaccination cannot guarantee? When administrators impose antigen testing requirements contrary to updated Center for Disease Control quarantine guidelines and recommend outdoor masking with no scientific basis, how can we maintain trust in Williams’ public health policies? While students had to eat 42 consecutive meals alone during the first two weeks of the winter study due to a ban on unmasked interactions indoors, how should we happily comply in the vein of “protect the community? »
Well, I don’t follow the rules and neither should you. My heart aches for those who follow the rules for the sake of following the rules – like the students who asked Jim Reische if they should wear a mask in the shower – rather than if they believe the rules make sense . We have been told over and over again to sacrifice ourselves for the greater good, but what are we sacrificing ourselves for? The unvaccinated who do not protect themselves?
Proponents of lifelong COVID restrictions argue that we must permanently alter our lives to protect vulnerable people such as the elderly or immunocompromised. However, they ignore how pharmaceutical innovations in vaccines and antiviral treatments like Paxlavoid and Molnupiravir significantly mitigate the risk of COVID. As with the flu, eliminating all risk of COVID is impossible, but we cannot ignore the unacceptable social harm, especially on children and young people, created by restrictive COVID policies.
There will be no end to COVID; it is endemic and will accompany us for the rest of our lives. However, we cannot accept that there will be no end to the tyranny of public health that governs every aspect of our lives at Williams. Williams’ micromanagement of students’ social behaviors is incredibly frustrating, as not all students can have unmasked social interactions in dorms except their own private common room and bathroom. While our fully vaccinated community must retreat under repressive restrictions, anyone in Berkshire County, regardless of their vaccination status, can walk into Walmart without a mask, go to a crowded bar or throw a big house party. If our state and city government doesn’t ban these activities, why does Williams think it’s necessary to turn into a public health worker? With few people looking out for us, we as students must take steps to protect the essence of Williams, the strength of its community, before it slips away from us.
To restore the culture of the pre-COVID era, Williams must abandon its overriding focus on eradicating COVID and refocus its goals around providing rigorous education and fostering a unified community. Trusting those vaccinated to assess their own risks and make responsible decisions is paramount to strengthening our community bonds and breaking out of the isolation and internal tensions that define our current experience. Instead of dictating the social behaviors of its fully vaccinated student body, Williams must focus on the welfare of its students, which the College has neglected throughout its response to the pandemic.