Quinn Orr and Juan Vargas are seniors in the Johnston Center at the University of Redlands.
We, a group of students in the Johnston Center for Integrative Studies, have drafted the following message regarding recent university responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is no secret that the past few years of the pandemic have been strenuous and difficult to adapt to for most people. The severity of the pandemic can hardly be overstated, with millions of global deaths casting a grim shadow on our daily lives. Being a student attempting to pursue an educational pathway throughout this pandemic has led to enormous difficulties which we have all struggled to accommodate. Yet the University of Redlands seems to offer little to no tangible support and is slowly rolling back the support that they have implemented. There is no infrastructure or institutional support for students, but there is a growing contempt for any consideration of one of the most pressing issues of our lives. More and more, COVID-19 and mitigation efforts have become blasé to discuss and students who raise issues with university responses are dismissed.
For those who are COVID positive, the university response has critically failed on multiple levels. First, there is no access to consistent testing anywhere on campus for students, which encourages increasing transmission amongst peers and family members and even more so during periods of high mobility where students are likely to return home and then back to campus, increasing total transmission vectors. Additionally, there is no easy access to food for students who have been exposed to or tested positive for COVID-19. Those who are in quarantine are expected to get their own food which defeats the purpose of quarantine as they are forced to expose many other students in the process. This also raises the issue of equitability regarding those who can afford to look outside the University for food and those who cannot. Isolation dorms also remain unmanaged and in deteriorating condition. One student reported moving into an isolation dorm in Fairmont where they discovered deteriorated living conditions, including nails scattered about the room and floors with layers of grime slowly building up.
For those who are exposed to COVID, there is no access to testing despite claims to the contrary. The university has supposedly apportioned tests for students who can demonstrate exposure to an individual testing positive for COVID yet offer no way to demonstrate this exposure. The university is also encouraging students to buy their own COVID tests which only places another barrier in front of students who cannot afford to do so. The blatant disregard for these considerations demonstrates the apathy and condescendence the university affords its students. The university puts the burden of testing on the individual student by failing to offer these resources at an institutional level, which opens the door to abusing the honor system, such as when students who fail to self-report positive testing. This is dismissive of students who don’t have access to cars, time to purchase tests, and those who cannot afford the costly price of the several tests that they need to remain diligently when they are exposed. The university claims to offer one rapid test per exposed individual through Public Safety, however one Johnston student, Quinn Orr, was directly exposed to COVID-19 and went to P-Safe to claim one of the tests. Unfortunately, once they arrived, they were denied a test and told to go to the Health Center instead. Orr followed these instructions from university staff, went to the Health Center and was denied a test there as well. Later, the Director of Public Safety called Orr and admitted that the university had made a mistake and that Orr should have received a test. Even when students follow all received instructions, the university still finds ways to create obstacles and difficulties in what should otherwise be a grave health concern.
Moreover, the inaccessibility of food includes access to eating outdoors or the ability to social distance in the Irvine Commons, both of which have been limited. The University of Redlands and the Irvine Commons management cited profits in their justification when students interrogated the changes during a discussion with the manager of the commons. There is little more to say about this level of apathy and neglect as it is the most obvious betrayal of the university’s real values.
Systems can be navigated with time and frustration, but the failure of both food and testing access makes it near impossible to follow CDC recommendations and to attend the university while remaining safe and free of illness. The recent spike in cases across campus is a direct result of the negligence of the university in addressing these issues. If the university were interested in diminishing the total quantity of cases, you might imagine they would have maintained the systems they had already developed to address these issues. But the high cost of labor and intensity of need have dissuaded them from stepping in, framing it as a problem for students to tackle by themselves. We recognize some of these services were provided by the State, yet the question of why the university has not addressed it privately has a clear answer.
While some students have been offered individual solutions, such as buying their own tests or having their friends help them, after they have reached out and sought help, these individual solutions do not constitute proper responses as an institution. No one will deny that support in any form is helpful, but relying entirely on individual solutions does not solve the larger issue. Most students who are exposed or test positive might never receive access to these solutions, especially if they are not formalized or communicated. Some students will try to navigate these difficult complexities by themselves, but others will be disincentivized to do so. People will continue to get sick, including those who are disabled and immunocompromised, and whatever mitigation might have occurred is now made nearly impossible.
The lack of transparency from the institution and the constant search for answers has exhausted the student body and ultimately deteriorated the quality of educational services being received from the University of Redlands. Considering the extreme requirements that need to be met to be granted permission for off-campus housing, the University of Redlands has made it their responsibility to ensure adequate housing conditions. The current on-campus living conditions begs the question: where is our tuition and room and board money going if not towards proper living conditions? Long before the COVID-19 outbreak, we have been frustrated about a lack of transparency in how our money is budgeted, and now even with a different president we are still asking the same question. As students of the university and as consumers who pay high tuition rates, it is our right to receive transparency of how and where our dollars are being allocated as well as having a say in how and where our money is allocated.
Photo by Photo Editor Kyle Eaton.