Lexi Santoro / Gavel Media

BC Room Occupancy Rule Will Backfire

The Boston College administration tightened room occupancy restrictions in a Wednesday email, a heel turn from the initial regulations that students agreed to in the COVID-19 Housing Addendum. Students living in suites and apartments are now allowed just two guests in total and those in traditional housing are allowed one guest, whereas the previous policy permitted one guest per resident.

The decision generated outrage from on-campus students, who posit that enacting a more stringent guest policy will simply cause students to engage in high-risk behavior off campus. The same email from Executive Vice President Michael Lochhead and Director of University Health Services Dr. Douglas Comeau which praises on-campus students for their adherence to guidelines then goes on to punish them for buying into the university’s already shoddy reopening plan.

Boston College has performed far fewer COVID tests than other schools in the area like Boston University and Northeastern University, which regularly test the entire student body. Prior to public backlash in The Boston Globe, many students had not been tested since they moved in.

The article was followed by an email to students from Vice President of Student Affairs Joy Moore who attributed the spike in cases to “student interactions within six feet of one another without face coverings” but declined to address the administration’s failure to adopt an effective testing and contact tracing program.

Since then, the Boston College student body has taken it upon itself to prevent the spread of COVID and stay on campus despite inadequate testing, but the collective action of concerned students clearly is of no consequence to the administration.

The reopening program was clearly working once testing was ramped up, per the university’s own COVID testing dashboard, with promising initial returns showing that widespread testing is the key to an effective reopening plan in the absence of a vaccine. Comeau and Lochhead tout the university’s success in lowering the number of cases (largely attributable to sacrifices made by the student body and state intervention in contact tracing) and then create a problem where none previously existed.

According to the email from Lochhead and Comeau, no seniors or freshmen are currently in isolation, and the spike in cases a few weeks ago was “attributable to several off-campus gatherings where students did not wear masks or practice physical distancing.”

Key word: off-campus. The administration’s decision to punish those living on campus for a rise in cases that it attributes to off-campus individuals is reprehensible. Off-campus students are already barred from the dorms, and those living in university housing have been respectful and mindful of the university’s efforts to keep its students safe. Those who have not have been disciplined accordingly.

However, revising guest policies when the university itself admits that the campus positivity rate is much lower than that of Massachusetts as a whole, and amid a steep decline in cases, is a clear overreach of administrative power and simply misses the mark in looking out for the health and safety of the larger student body.

Students choose to live blocked with each other for a reason. Friend groups are larger than six to eight people, and allowing one guest per resident was a concession that the student body was willing to make to ensure a safe semester. The administration’s useless gesture will simply drive students to bars, restaurants, and off-campus houses, where they are at a much higher risk of contracting COVID-19 than in the dorms.

Student mental health will also be negatively affected. And while the university may believe its “Mental Well Being for Students” online module will solve the issue, the reality is that it is yet another empty gesture from an administration with a long history of them.

When campus was rocked by obscene hate crimes which targeted the Black community on campus, the university took no material action and simply assigned a “DiversityEdu” course to students. The fact that hate crimes occurred in consecutive years shows that the administration’s attempt to do even the bare minimum failed to take a strong enough stance on an extremely important issue.

Many demanded a statement from Father Leahy with massive protests, and the university’s president could not even provide that to students who wanted their voices to be heard. With COVID preventing in-person interactions, administrators are even harder to reach. Had students been consulted in some way, the holes in the guest policy revision could have been pointed out.

Communication between students and administrators is a one-way street, and even a Change.org petition that has garnered nearly 2,000 signatures will likely be ignored by the university. As of 2017, Boston College valued its endowment at over $2.4 billion, a figure that has likely only increased. If that money cannot be used to enact a better testing infrastructure rather than blaming students for administrative failures, what is it really for?

Seniors are all too familiar with these administrative issues, and tensions have reached a boiling point. A common sentiment among students who signed was that the school only cares about money, and its actions make it difficult to argue.

While the university reserved the right to make changes to the COVID-19 Housing Addendum, off-campus housing was largely unavailable by the time it was released, and students who opted out of university housing would already have been charged at least a portion of their room and board fees. Students were essentially held hostage by a lopsided agreement, and Boston College again made it clear that money is the only factor at play.

Many students have decried the absurd and unnecessary change, but expecting any response from the administration is misguided. Those who have made all of the necessary sacrifices to have a semester amid a pandemic are punished for doing so, and Boston College can make these decisions with impunity simply because the administrators are impossible to reach.

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Joseph Birdsall