On August 13th 2020, Indiana State University President Dr. Deborah Curtis released a video urging students to be socially cautious as they return to campus for an unusual semester.
“The faculty and staff have worked hard for months preparing to give you the best possible on-campus experience under the circumstances of COVID-19,” her statement read, “but we must ask for your help.”
Indeed, students have returned this week to a very different campus than the one they left. From buildings with closed wings, to doors and stairways directing traffic, to increased signage and reminders of the risk of COVID communication are everywhere.
It’s off-campus behavior that President Curtis’s video addresses most directly.
“We are particularly concerned about what will happen off-campus, away from the safety protocols we’ve instituted at ISU,” her two-minute address continued. “There’s no getting around it: Students attending crowded bars and parties will spread the virus and make it unmanageable for your university. Much worse,” she warned, “it will threaten the lives of others.”
The video was posted to the ISU News YouTube channel and distributed through the ISU Today email list, a daily communication delivered to every student, staff and faculty member through university email. It has received over 1,900 views.
Despite the outreach effort, some students remain unaware of the video. Sydney Feldhake is an English major and Music minor who lives near campus.
“I had not known the president released a video,” she said, adding that “I notice that many people are still attending large parties without masks and conducting business as if it was a normal fall semester… It makes me extremely nervous.”
Michael Thomas, a double major in Philosophy and English, observed that trend on-campus as well. “On the second day of classes, I have already seen more large gatherings at the fountain and around campus during the first week of classes than ever before,” he said.
Feldhake continued, “I sometimes wonder if the students, or even the professors, are being given all the information we should be given about what is going on.”
Associate director of University Communication Dianne Powell, offers some clarifying advice. In addition to ISU Today, which she calls “a great source”, notes that “a section of the ISU website has been dedicated to sharing information on COVID-19 updates, as well as the Back on Track plan…Links to both are easily accessible from any page on the ISU website. We invite all students, families, and members of the campus community to regularly check their ISU Today email, the university website, and university social media for important news and developments this fall.”
Despite the disorienting changes, students still report optimism.
Thomas said, “I am content with returning to campus. I think the guidelines that have been put in place are sufficient, given the circumstances.”
And Feldhake said, “I agree with many of ISU's new policies…I just really hope that we will be given updates on outbreaks and such.”
President Curtis’s video urges, “Doing the right thing now, regardless of the inconvenience, will get us back to normal faster.” Associate Director Powell backed that up. “Through cooperation we can overcome challenges due to the pandemic.”
A video from our President marked the beginning of an unprecedented chapter in ISU’s history. Here at the outset, while students and educators alike wait to see whether a negotiation of transparency and compliance can meet the optimism of this strange semester. The clearest thing may be that everyone has an active part.