On Monday, the News published an article by my classmate Caroline Beit ’23 regarding Yale’s handling of the recent COVID-19 cluster and public health in this pandemic more generally. While I applaud Beit for her concern for the Yale and New Haven communities and for her dedication to public health as a contact tracer in the state of New York, I think her condemnation of Yale’s COVID-19 policies is misplaced.
I first dispute the accusation leveled by the title of the column: “Yale knew the risks, it chose to ignore them.” I would hardly call twice-weekly testing, social distancing mandates, cancellation of in-person classes, tracking of in-residence students’ every move with card readers and, may I remind you, removal of our very class of sophomores from campus in order to de-densify “ignoring” the problem.
Yale has a vast, comprehensive and sound plan in place — and in action. Even a perfunctory glance at the COVID-19 FAQs or the Yale COVID-19 dashboard would show this. Outbreaks have quickly been detected. We have been informed almost immediately of every new piece of information.
This transparency is essential to the management of a pandemic. It is especially important that we trust our leaders in this moment. For that reason, the criticism of Yale moving its risk level to green — when it indeed did meet the criteria it had set out for that level — is baffling. The categorizations would be meaningless if Yale simply chose to lie to us about the state of coronavirus on campus.
But from an undergraduate standpoint, Yale’s restrictions between the green and yellow levels are nearly identical in terms of student life. It is students’ responsibility to observe the community compact. If students relax their behavior, it is their own prerogative and not the fault of Yale, which has done everything within reason to make sure its community stays healthy.
That includes measures Beit seems to have overlooked. Her claim that “there is no clear policy pertaining to off-campus and remote students with regards to gym use since we do not face the same testing requirements” is simply incorrect. Yale’s COVID-19 policy is abundantly clear in its prohibition of remotely enrolled students from accessing campus spaces other than the health center.
I wrote to Beit to clarify this, and she replied that the Payne Whitney Gymnasium reservations page changed their policy since last Friday. According to Beit, it added a line about Yale’s standing “no visitor” policy. I reached out to PWG for clarification about this change, but they did not respond. Still, this should have been clear to anyone reading the previous University statements regarding remotely enrolled students. Beit also clarified that while she was able to make a reservation, she did not attend her time slot at the pool.
One might argue that Yale facilities should check a student’s enrollment status before allowing them to make a gym reservation. But Yale students should know better than to violate University safety rules, which are in place to protect others. This is a matter of personal responsibility, not a failure of the system.
With regard to testing, Beit is correct — Yale itself is not following University scientists’ recommendation of testing students every two days. But Yale is testing every student enrolled in residence every three or four days. Compare this to the flagship university in my home state of Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin-Madison, which has reported 3,223 student cases since July 28 — their testing program “prioritizes” community members based on risk and symptoms, instead of testing everyone. It is an extreme privilege of resources to even be testing as often as Yale does.
This brings us to the problem of Yale’s reach outside of campus. Yale — and the residential college heads and deans — has done an excellent job of staging responsible events for its students, wisely allowing them to take a break from schoolwork while remaining safe. I’ve seen announcements for socially distanced movie nights and concerts, to name a couple.
But Yale cannot completely control its students’ actions. Yale did, in fact, discourage students from living remotely in the New Haven area, the community for which Beit expresses apt concern. But here, Yale’s caution is not what Beit should be criticizing. Enrolling remotely and then choosing to live in the New Haven area is the real reckless act with regard to the New Haven community. It makes the New Haven population denser, which Yale specifically tried to avoid.
Moreover, it is extremely flawed to attack “Yale’s reckless behavior” — by which I assume Beit means “Yale’s reopening” — in connection with the number of coronavirus deaths in Connecticut, cited as 4,542. In this regard, Beit deceptively pointed to the total tally of deaths in Connecticut since March.
In March, Yale acted responsibly and closed, barring students from returning to campus. Its cautious reopening this fall has likewise shown its commitment to keeping people safe. Drawing a line connecting a “reckless” reopening and the grand total of coronavirus deaths in Connecticut is misleading at best.
Finally, lacking convincing evidence, Beit claims that Yale is only trying to “protect its endowment and reputation, rather than to protect the health of its students.” What she didn’t see is that the University’s reputation rests on the well-being of its students. Even if anyone is cynical enough to believe that Yale cares not a whit about its students, the remark misunderstands public relations.
We, the students, should not pretend we are helpless. We are personally responsible for our own actions and decisions — and for the effect we have on our communities. We cannot blame everything on Yale, which is taking every reasonable measure to protect its students, faculty, staff and surrounding communities during this pandemic.
GIOVANNA TRUONG is a sophomore in Pauli Murray College. Contact her at email@example.com.