by Jess Szabo, Arts Writer
Colleges and universities across the country are working to ensure a safe and pleasant semester as they move into the winter months amid Covid-19 prevention efforts. In the Utica area, Hamilton College stands out as a great success at keeping students free from Covid-19. As of November 22, 2020, the school’s Covid-19 dashboard reported only sixteen positive cases among students, and ten positive cases among employees overall, with no new cases reported among either group as of November 22.
Hamilton’s success in Covid-19 prevention is largely due to the willingness of the entire community to implement preventative measures. Efforts begin before students arrive on campus. They must complete a Covid-19 health module prior to arrival, which includes testing and self-quarantine.
Once students arrive on campus, they must wear a face mask unless they are alone in their room or in an office. Of course students may remove their masks to eat, but they must be sitting at a distance from others if they choose to eat in public. Hamilton students take these precautions seriously.
“Most of our students are caring for our community’s health and holding each other accountable. We will also address any concerns we have with our students through our formal conduct process,” said Vige Barrie, Senior Director of Media Relations for Hamilton College.
Although Hamilton students are willing to do whatever is needed to prevent the spread of Covid-19, such efforts understandably cause disappointment and stress among students who looked forward to college as an opportunity to expand their social circle. Barrie noted that Hamilton continuously works toward easing this stress and offering students the opportunity to meet and socialize with each other while maintaining their health.
“Our students are inclined to socialize with each other and this is one of the benefits of a small residential college,” she said. “To tell students that they must maintain physical distance and not congregate in large groups has been a challenge, but our students are rising to the occasion, using the newly created outdoor spaces, and are adjusting. We’ve created numerous outdoor spaces for students to eat together, study together, or just relax and have conversations with each other. We have also offered virtual programming, fitness opportunities, use of our beautiful trails, and wellness programs such as meditation, healthy cooking, and other creative ideas. ”
In accordance with New York State regulations, only the virtual events may have an unlimited number of participants. Any indoor in-person gathering is limited to ten people or fewer. Outdoor in-person gatherings must not exceed fifty people, and six feet of space must be left between people not in the same household. This may cause added stress, but Hamilton students know they are doing this as part of a unified effort to keep their campus and surrounding community safe.
Utica College is another area school addressing the mental and emotional health needs of students as they return to campus.
“The greatest adjustment has been to the need to wear a mask and social distance outside the classroom. However, our community has been very successful overall, with few concerns and issues arising early on. The institution’s partnership with students, staff, and faculty started early and has continued to date,” said Director of Emergency Management Shad M. Crowe. “Our Student Living -College Engagement Office is working hard to keep students focused and stress free during these trying times. We, the world, have been living with COVID-19 and all the challenges that come with it for several months now. It has become our normal. The mask and social distancing are just a part of life at this time. My advice is to try not to stress about the virus. Do everything you can to minimize your exposure and focus on studies.”
Crowe added that Utica College students are stepping up to this challenge by finding creative ways to socialize.
“UC community members have come to the realization that, in order to physically be on campus, we must all be be part of the prevention solution. There is no other option. Students at UC have become leaders in the effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” he said. “They are using social media, gaming events, social distanced outdoor events on campus and many other options to relax.”
While it is normal to experience difficulties at this time, anyone experiencing symptoms of depression should seek professional help immediately. Depression may be diagnosed if symptoms last for at least two weeks and include sadness, lethargy, body aches and pains with no other cause, feelings of guilt and shame, a focus on dark or upsetting subject matter or thoughts, and urges toward self-harm. Students who experience persistent anxiety or panic attacks should also seek professional help.
Upstate New York’s schools may be doing an excellent job preventing both the spread of Covid-19 and ensuring their students have an enriching college experience this term, but that is certainly not the case across the nation, as crowded gatherings without masks or increased efforts at cleanliness have been linked to Covid-19 outbreaks. While these students may feel they have successfully found a way to “blow off steam,” the health risks to themselves and anyone they might come into contact with in any way are not worth the fun. Such behavior also increases stress by forcing the region to revert back to stricter measures.
Both Barrie and Crowe urge students in these regions to follow the lead of their students here in New York.
“Continue to convey the message of community ownership for the health and safety of the campus, the faculty who are learning to teach in new ways, and the many staff members who ensure they have a positive experience,” Barrie said.
“Mask up, social distance, practice good hygiene,” added Crowe. “Create a partnership within your community and encourage everyone to participate.Taking personal responsibility for prevention really is the only defense we have against the spread of this virus.”