Colleges and corona: John Carroll remains online for the fall semester


Jack Giba, The Carroll News

On a cloudy Sept. 4, the day we’d all been patiently waiting for, the John Carroll community received the decision from the administration that we will remain online for the entire fall semester.

Before we heard the news, I had hoped that in-person instruction would be a reality, as I am certain many students did. However, in 2020 fashion, our hope was put rightfully in its place.

The decision came as no surprise to me. Based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that COVID-19 is still actively circulating through the United States, slowly or rapidly depending on the location, how could administrators be expected to conduct education? 

There are many variables to consider when entertaining the possibility of in-person college classes. I personally find it foolish and ill-advised for institutions of higher learning to hold in-person instruction, but there are positives and negatives on both sides of the debate.

My apprehension comes from seeing the struggles of other campuses like the University of Notre Dame, which in one day had over 100 positive cases reported. I feared a similar situation would put the John Carroll community at risk — most notably those who are more vulnerable to the virus. Any contention students have about “missing out” or not having the “college experience” that they paid and went to John Carroll for seems trivial when lives are at stake. Simply put, if lives are threatened, what argument can overcome this fact? Maybe classes could have been held in a limited in-person capacity to local folks, but would that really be equitable? 

The 18-22 age range is notorious for making plenty of mistakes, a trait that is grounded in the old “our brains are not fully developed until we are 25” adage. I do not totally agree with this stereotype, but the statistic provided by Gov. Mike DeWine supports this point: 35% of all new cases in Ohio for the week prior to Sept. 4 were in the 18-22 age range. Some of these cases may not be the fault of students, but many of them are likely from disregarding the social distancing policies college students have been asked to follow. We can do better. So, I understand the perspective of the administration. There are variables that they cannot control like off-campus activity.

The decision remains muddled and emotional. First year students have not been able to experience campus in its true form yet, and when the new students eventually do make it on campus, they will have to find their place and pick up where they never got to start. Seniors have to consider the possibility of their last semester being similar to that of our most recent graduating class. Every class is facing its own challenges.

In my house on Warrensville Center Road, I feel grateful for what I have: a short walk to campus, a vehicle if needed, friends living with me and friends living nearby. I’m fortunate to have these things, to have access to some normalcy of my college life. So much of the John Carroll student body does not. Zooming in from wherever students are, there is an undeniable disconnect from the University, a community void that has become difficult to fill for many. This is unavoidable, but keeping our community intact begins on the individual level. I applaud the efforts of University organizations and faculty that are making a massive effort to help students feel welcome and still part of the John Carroll community, most notably for the new students.

Ultimately, the question of how higher education will be conducted in the future is unanswerable. The integrity of in-person education has been questioned. Will online classes be the new norm for many students? I’d imagine online learning may have a larger presence now that mass-implementation across the country has been achieved. Universities are adapting to our world, making decisions they have never had to make before, and we have to do the same. Certainly, we are in groundbreaking times, although these same times are full of compromises. What is certain, though, is that our educational experience during this pandemic will undoubtedly shape the future of learning.