Covid-19 on Ripon Campus
Does Ripon College have a plan to keep students safe on campus?
By Nicholas Tonn
Is returning to in-person classes and schooling a good idea for Ripon College? Some members of Ripon College’s faculty who planned this fall semester say they are “cautiously optimistic” about the state of in-person schooling.
To gauge how many people were interested in having in-person schooling, President Zach Messitte of Ripon College ran a poll over the summer that, he said, showed the “majority” of students and faculty wanted in-person schooling rather than virtual. The college also gave each professor the option to choose between teaching in-person or online and most chose to teach in-person, according to Messitte. Although Messitte saw an interest in doing in-person schooling, the concept of going online was considered. He did note that Ripon College has enough money in their funding to be able to do a virtual semester or even a full year online thanks to alumni who donated money.
However, Andrea Young, vice president of finance at Ripon College, said that there are “many important reasons for students to be on campus.” Mental health of young adults has been falling substantially nationwide since the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown according to an article in “The Week” a British and American news publication. Young thinks having the students come to campus and be around other young adults (although 6 feet apart) could improve their mental health. Secondly, the educational value of Ripon College wouldn’t be as strong online as it is in-person, Young argued. Many classes cannot be offered, taught, or relayed over an online platform, Young believes. Classes from band and choir to theater and fitness have to be fully experienced in person to get the full education value they offer. Lastly, as a small liberal arts college, “Ripon College is built on community,” Young continued. That community is hurt by being separated and lived out online Young believes. The draw of a college has less to do with the educational value, and more to do with the people who provide the lived experience of an educational institution and Andrea Young thinks that ought to be preserved.
When asked about how important community, educational value, and strong mental health is if people’s lives are at stake, Messitte understood the concern. The survival rate for Covid-19 among young adults is high, according to the “Psychiatric Times” a medical trade publication. Messitte also noted that “There is no safer-at-home order.” In Wisconsin, there is no enforced governmental mandate to require students to wear masks and social distance. There might be a mandate in place, but it is not reliably enforced as reported by the “Madison State Journal.” At Ripon College, there are a few rules enforced to keep the students safe that are not in place (or enforced) in most communities around Wisconsin and even the nation such as mandatory social distancing and masks. Thus, the risk of catching Covid-19 for the average student is at most equal to the risk they’d have at home, Messitte said he believes.
Some members of Ripon College’s faculty who planned this fall semester have said they are confident in the sustainability of the college’s plan to remain in person amidst the pandemic. They may have a difficult time getting tests for future semesters if the virus doesn’t go away, but so will the whole nation Kathy Welch, the college nurse, said she believes. Students who come in contact with somebody who tests positive for the virus are put into a two-week quarantine in which they are delivered food and take classes online. They are also working on creating “ionized” environments for future semesters if the virus persists, Young said. Such environments would clean the air in real-time so no stale air with the virus could infect students, theoretically. They have a 24-hour test result for any symptomatic student and while Welch said she has seen more” students sick than in an average semester, there are currently only eleven students who have contracted Covid-19. Other colleges despite hard work have thousands of Covid-19 cases already, such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Although the campus in Madison is much bigger the student sick to student healthy ratio is still much higher.
If students continue to hold each other accountable and remain responsible themselves, then Ripon College can continue to stay in person for future semesters no matter how long this virus stays, Messettie argued. Even if other colleges cancel in-person classes or if students try and pressure the college to go online, Young said she believes that she does “not envision” Ripon College going online anytime soon. It would take a massive on-campus outbreak or a governmental order at this point to stop Ripon College from doing in-person schooling. Although Dean of Students Chris Ogle does believe that Ripon College could and would go online if they had too, the members of the faculty remain “cautiously optimistic.”