This piece was originally published in The Yale Daily News.
After six months of harsh isolation in 2020, I came to Yale last summer with the hope that things would be better. Instead, my first year was marked by isolation and confusion as emails announcing new regulations arrived weekly in my inbox.
With permission to remain on campus last spring, I counted myself among the fortunate members of my class who did not have to spend an entire term attending virtual classes from home. Even so, that term was one of the loneliest, darkest and most emotionally taxing times I have ever experienced — and I say this as a military veteran. The suicide of a student not 30 feet away from me pushed me and many others nearly to a breaking point no amount of virtual social interaction could allay. In fact, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease during the summer, and my doctors’ consensus is that my unprecedented stress levels during the spring term were the likely catalyst for the manifestation of this disease, which will accompany me for the rest of my life.
This past term was a more than welcome improvement, and up until its hectic and uncertain final days, it was one of the best periods of my life. With a calendar packed with academic, social and other engagements — a maelstrom of real, face-to-face human interaction — things were finally going right. I was immensely grateful to the University for having chosen a path of informed revival, heeding the advice of experts to ensure a happy, healthy campus and a near-complete return to normal even as our peer institutions proceeded with more trepidation.
This upward motion came crashing to a halt over the break. As the Omicron wave washed over the world, the University responded with heavy-handed fear — shifting classes online, banning social gatherings and restoring campus to its former hollowed-out state in an abrupt backwards lurch reminiscent of the uncertain early days of the pandemic.
My entire first year of college was on Zoom, and having now regressed to learning as a little rectangle on a screen again, I don’t know how I pulled through it (many, of course, did not). Though today’s hibernating campus may appear rather similar to last year’s, the stark difference between them is that 99.6 percent of us are now vaccinated and boosted, giving us a level of protection other schools, cities and workplaces can only dream of. To the timid bureaucrats who run our University like their personal lab experiment, however, COVID-19 is simply a PR risk to be minimized, consequences — and students — be damned.
Don’t be selfish, they tell us, you have a responsibility to protect the immunocompromised and the community. For decades, institutions of higher learning have managed to keep immunocompromised students safe from transmissible diseases without smothering all of campus life. The last deaths from measles on an American college campus, for example, occurred 37 years ago. COVID-19 is of course overall a more deadly disease, but with CDC data showing that mortality for boosted populations aged 18-49 is functionally zero, this path is now available to us for COVID-19, too. As a dedicated CDC manual explains, plenty of easily-implementable solutions exist to keep immunocompromised students safe without holding the rest of the student body hostage, as a recent article suggested. These include hybrid classes, standalone singles and grab and-go dining — all on a voluntary basis, of course. Community building is about sacrifice for the common good, not forced equity. I spent this summer taking immunosuppressant steroids as the Delta wave flooded my area, but I didn’t expect the government to structure its entire response around my personal wellbeing. Feeling unsafe? By all means, take extra precautions, but 4,664 undergraduates should not be forced to adhere to the same standard which offers them negligible health benefits.
As to the nebulous “broader community” of New Haven, we need to ask ourselves why Yale should be making the decisions. Our city has a functional and competent administration, perfectly capable of determining the policies necessary to protect its residents, businesses and visitors in accordance with state and federal regulation. Why is a group of patronizing University apparatchiks responsible to keep the city “safe”? Where are the familiar calls of “Yale, Respect New Haven” when it is precisely Yale’s restrictions that are causing local businesses and their workers to struggle in a city already suffering from financial hardship?
Equipped with the broader perspective of all we now know about COVID-19 and about the dramatic impact that strict mitigation measures have on students’ wellbeing, it’s time to reevaluate how our University should be operating. Very few risks in life can ever be fully eliminated, and experts believe COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon. With no off-ramp in sight and the looming reality of a Yale College with no institutional memory of campus before the pandemic, the time for action is now. I hear disgruntlement and frustration from students and faculty members who understand this, but our voices have been quieted by fear of seeming insensitive and selfish or facing repercussions from the aggressive surveillance state the university has become. No more.
We want our college back, not isolated concessions from a neurotic administration principally concerned with maintaining its image at the expense of its students’ wellbeing. We want to manage risks as a community instead of begging for “permissions” from untouchable and out-of touch administrators more interested in justifying their bloated salaries from the comfort of their living rooms than in our growth and education. What we don’t need is just another mechanical increase in funding for mental health resources that we have been conditioned to view as a sign of compassion from the same people that made us need help in the first place. In an institution with a $42 billion endowment charging $77,750 a year, such resources should be a given, not a consolation prize for our forlorn educational experience. We are asking for nothing more than to sit in classrooms, have meals in dining halls, play sports, go to social events and join the clubs, bands, teams and performance groups that make a Yale education more than just a list of grades on a transcript. In short: Enough is enough. Bring college back.
Aaron Schorr is a sophomore in Grace Hopper College. Contact him at