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COVID-19, Communication and Consistency

by Z.W. Gleason

On Nov. 6, Montclair State University’s 3,100 residential students received an email mandating the submission of a waiver prior to leaving campus. In the weeks since, residential students and student staff have begun to question the effectiveness and enforcement of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) safety policy and the university’s communication regarding such.

The student waivers appeared to be based on an honor system. There were no explicitly stated repercussions for leaving campus without submitting a waiver, or lying about one’s destination.

Brenna Herrity, a senior product design major, was confused by the new policy and wondered how it was going to be enforced.

“It was hard to believe that they would request that of us, given how much effort that would take on their part and on our part to coordinate,” Herrity said. “And if anything was to go wrong in that system, it seems like it would be pointless. It seems like most students wouldn’t abide by it anyway.”

Some believe the policy makes little difference due to commuters, professors and outside parties coming in and out of the “campus bubble.”

Charlie Falotico, a freshman television and digital media major, pointed out that commuter students use the campus frequently and are able to come and go with no restrictions.

“They made this broad statement about staying in the university’s bubble, but have no way to enforce it,” Falotico said. “It’s supposed to be a closed campus–we can’t leave, but we have outside parties on campus consistently. I’m not allowed to leave to get groceries unless I submit a waiver and get approved, but commuter students can go wherever and they’re still frequently on campus.”

When contacted about the waiver policy, the office of Residence Life defers all questions to the Office of Student Development and Campus Life, who sent an email on Nov. 18 that explained the precautions:

“These restrictions are necessary to keep everyone as safe as possible. These are not ordinary times and unfortunately, we cannot operate as if they are,” the message reads.

One resident assistant (RA), who wished to remain anonymous due to the probability of losing their job, was displeased with the administration’s insufficient communication with Residence Life staff members.

“They didn’t tell any of us,” the RA said. “It’s like, the president not telling his army commanders that we’re going to war. You’re not telling the people what they need to do, but you’re expecting them to do it at the same time,”

None of the service assistants or resident assistants seemed to have any more information than what was stated in the original email.

“I tried to ask some of the [service assistants] in my building after I got the email,” Falotico said. “They said, ‘we know as much as you do,’ which was unhelpful.”

According to student staff members, the lack of proactive administrative correspondence is not an anomaly. Those responsible for overseeing the residence halls and student-staff were caught off guard by the waiver policy as well.

“As far as I know, none of the community directors in The Village or The Heights were notified about the waiver policy ahead of time,” the anonymous RA said. “It really does affect everybody on campus. And this rule is just another indicator of how poorly this university communicates.”

The responsibility of reviewing, and approving or denying the waivers, falls to the community directors. These thirteen people have to review all waivers submitted by any of the 3,100 students living on campus this semester, in addition to their regular responsibilities.

“This policy truly is a cover-your-butt policy,” the anonymous RA said. “They don’t want to be shut down because they don’t want to give out refunds. I would say at least three-quarters of the restrictions that the governor, the president, the mayors and even [Montclair State President] Susan Cole have done are strictly performative. It only serves to punish those who already follow the rules.”

There are some who believe this policy will not change the minds of students who already disobey the pandemic safety guidelines.

“Shouldn’t we all have been doing this for the last six-to-eight months?” Falotico said. “I don’t enjoy this, not one person enjoys this pandemic. I’m not having fun, I hate it, but we don’t really have a choice. If six months of lockdown hasn’t convinced you that it’s not safe to go out, nothing that I can say or that the school can say will convince you otherwise.”

The Montclair State COVID-19 dashboard reported 35 cases of COVID-19 for the week immediately following the waiver’s installment. The effectiveness of the waiver policy in relation to the amount of positive COVID-19 cases is unknown.

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