Editor’s Note: Official comments from HWS have been condensed to the final section of this piece. We will continue to provide updates to this story as more information becomes available. At the bottom of this page readers can find the full-outline of demands brought forward by the student coalition for HWS leadership to consider implementing. The employees who spoke with our newsroom made it clear that they are not part of the student organization, nor have they engaged with them directly.
Students and staff at Hobart and William Smith Colleges share a common frustration with leadership at the Geneva institution. Administrators want staff and students to trust them- but both have shared intense criticisms of how leaders at HWS have handled the Coronavirus Pandemic.
Many of those frustrations boiled over in early-February when a batch of tests were allegedly ‘lost’ in transportation to a lab for consideration. The timing of the lost samples took students and faculty by surprise- as the school was teetering on the brink of a two-week shutdown mandated by state guidance for colleges in New York.
“We saw the numbers leading up to that point, then we find out in the middle of the week that a few hundred tests were missing- and would not be counted,” an employee told FingerLakes1.com after digging into a series of demands leveled by a student-led Coalition to improve conditions on- and off-campus. FingerLakes1.com would eventually speak with a half dozen employees who shared corroborating testimony about conditions at HWS for students and staff. Up until those tests were lost, much of this bubbled below the public service- with only those engaged with the Colleges understanding how complex the issues were. Looking back, that two-week window proved crucial in tipping the dialogue into the public sphere.
On Friday, March 5 the student coalition met with HWS leadership, including President Joyce Jacobsen, Vice President for Campus Life Robb Flowers, Vice President for Marketing and Communications Cathy Williams, and Vice President for Finance and Administration Carolee White. They heard an array of student concerns, as well as some of those that had been echoed by staffers that spoke with FingerLakes1.com.
“HWS cannot continue telling us to trust them, they must show us that we can.”
The list of demands brought forward by the student coalition was extensive, and included major changes around educational experience, health and food, physical safety around quarantine or isolation experience, and transparency around reporting.
While administrators promised some change, Bailey DiSanto says she was frustrated at the start of Friday’s meeting. She spoke with FingerLakes1.com about some of the issues students and staff have brought forward to the Coalition. “I was frustrated at the beginning of the meeting, when President Jacobsen shared that she wasn’t sure what points we wanted to address in the meeting,” she recalled. “We presented the demands last week, we recently provided a document explaining the demands, and I tried to make it clear that we expected her- and others present- to take initiative in brain-storming ideas for what they had the power to change on campus.”
DiSanto says the Coalition met almost every day to plan for the Friday meeting. “We were given the indication that they- at least President Jacobsen- just turned on the Zoom meeting today with no prior thought or preparation,” DiSanto recalled. “She also clearly told us at the beginning of the meeting that she does not take notes during the meetings which also suggests that she did not want to think about the concerns we raised after the Zoom meeting. DiSanto was also denied the privilege to record the meeting for coalition members who were not able to attend.
She says other administrators at HWS have been far more engaged that Jacobsen. “Robb Flowers has been endlessly supportive of the Coalition, going so far as to allocate time for a weekly meeting with our members,” DiSanto continued. “He has taken the most initiative to make positive changes on campus, despite having an incredibly long list of responsibilities already. He and Brandon Barile have been very attentive to student concerns represented by the COVID Coalition, and have taken actions in response to the demands.”
HWS administrators told Coalition members that they would develop a Twitter account to provide more frequent updates on COVID-19 response. At this point, it’s unclear why those measures wouldn’t simply be communicated across the College’s existing, well-followed and trafficked social media platforms. They have also asked the Ontario County Health Department to return to campus to go through public spaces to determine that they are up to state and county standards for COVID-19 guidance. The Coalition said they are unaware of any date for this inspection. There will also be a weekly ‘discussion’ meeting hosted by the Counseling Center that is open to all students for discussing their experiences with COVID-19 and campus climate. DiSanto said that HWS leadership also promised ‘Exit Wellness Checks’ for students prior to exiting quarantine or isolation. The Coalition requested that this information be made public- but it’s unclear if that will happen.
Those changes, while appearing significant, make-up a short list by comparison to the experiences chronicled by students and staff who spoke with FingerLakes1.com. DiSanto said that the Coalition will continue pushing the Colleges to enact positive change on campus. “We are going to follow up with Cathy Williams to make sure she follows through with creating the twitter account. And we are going to continue to schedule meetings with President Jacobsen, and attend meetings already established,” she said. “There’s always the risk that this meeting, from the admin’s perspective, was merely a ‘consult and dismiss’, but we will be persistent and do our best to hold the Colleges accountable- for what they agreed to do today, and for the demands that they have not yet responded to.”
The message from students is simple: Words are important, but so are actions- and follow-through.
Staff frustrations began with the start of the spring semester
A week after a few hundred COVID-19 tests went missing- FingerLakes1.com was approached by a group of HWS employees. Emails sent to employees corroborated that a batch of tests were lost, and as noted earlier in the story- some were skeptical about timing. That said, there had been a long-standing concern with how the pandemic has been represented in the community by HWS leadership.
“There is this portrayal of safety and successful COVID cluster management within the ‘HWS bubble’,” one employee told FingerLakes1.com. “There’s also a portrayal that high consideration has been lent to the safety of the HWS community and greater Geneva community. This has all happened while simultaneously creating an unsafe environment for all by prioritizing the financial needs of the institution and good optics (achieved through skewed metrics) over the health and safety of its community.” Multiple task force groups were created to assess the different options for the 2020-21 academic year. It included a survey of students, staff, and faculty. “There was no survey following the fall semester leading into the spring, nor any further input from the faculty and staff outside of those task force groups,” that employee continued. Some employees have taken to emailing administrators and leaders at HWS, only to receive sporadic, inconsistent responses. “Those emails are answered inconsistently and oftentimes only partially. If they are answered at all,” the employee continued.
There were two major findings in the Task Force Report, which was shared with FingerLakes1.com by another employee, speaking about their concerns with HWS operation.
First, that several members of the task force did not feel confident bringing back in-person instruction. “While we were directed to provide an analysis of possible options, we must note that several Task Force members believe the only moral option is to go with an all-remote semester,” the report read.
Second, was the admission that the consequences would be significant if HWS did not return to in-person learning as soon as possible. “Any model in which large numbers of students choose not to participate would have dire financial consequences on the institution and would lead to large scale reduction in faculty and staff positions along with further reductions to salary and benefits,” the report added.
However, issues with testing went well-beyond a batch being misplaced. After speaking with several employees- here were the concerns they shared with FingerLakes1.com:
– No clear structure in the fall for who/how often each student would be tested. Many students only tested 1-3 times, according to one of the employees who spoke with us. Student athletes were tested at a slightly higher frequency, but only if their sport was considered ‘high-risk’ and also in-season.
– Spring surveillance includes testing 25% of the student body every week. Students are split into four different pods, ensuring that each student is tested once a month. Athletics testing did not change.
– Faculty and staff are not required to test and there is no clear protocol for how to get a test if one is needed. “They are directed to follow insurance guidelines,” an employee said. “The only surveillance for Faculty & Staff is a daily wellness assessment where the risk is assessed case by case depending on answers. The wellness assessments are not policed in any way and many of the employees do not consistently fill them out.”
– The ‘positive rate’ is skewed, according to employees. “Every test is lump-summed,” two employees noted. “There are no distinctions for if the tests are given to students in quarantine or isolation, or if there are multiple tests administered to the same student in a short window of time,” one explained. For example, a student will test four times before leaving quarantine. If one of those tests is positive, it’s only counted once. The other negatives are still counted toward the school’s overall rate of positivity.
– The HWS dashboard is updated daily without any proof of accurate numbers. “It is a common belief amongst students, faculty, and staff that the reality of COVID positive cases is severely underrepresented,” the employee added. “The bottom line is that testing is not consistent enough to accurately represent reality.”
– The HWS dashboard is self-administered and lacks accountability. “There is no accessible record of the dashboard, which does not allow for the community to know where HWS falls on the two-week, 100 case count that would inherently result in a mandatory two-weeks of remote learning.”
That pause on all extra-curricular activities occurred between February 7-13. That’s when the batch of tests were not counted due to a transportation delay that was brought on by poor weather, according to communication from HWS leaders to faculty. “During that week we learned via email that 300+ test results could not be determined or posted due to an alleged ‘transportation delay’, which was said to have been caused by weather,” an employee said. “This rendered the results of 400+ tests as either ‘pending’ or completely missing.”
Employees like those we spoke with have reservations about the application of protocols. They allege that HWS has taken a ‘case-by-case’ or ‘person-by-person’ approach to setting and applying them. “It’s created an environment of confusion and inconsistency around HWS protocols, disciplinary actions, and protection afforded to the HWS community.”
A major miss, according to four employees we spoke with, said that a majority of classes are being taught in-person without a remote option, which was echoed by the student coalition. “There is no protective protocol or measure in place for students who do not feel comfortable attending class,” an employee explained. “And even if someone has known contact with someone who tests positive they are not considered eligible for remote learning accommodations until they have been contacted by the school or county.”
“The options for students are oftentimes to: take an absence for the day (which will fall under the professors’ absence/missed class policy and is often met with grade-impacting consequences), take a zero on assignments or participation for the day unless the professor chooses to accommodate differently, or drop the class,” an employee elaborated. “I have personally witnessed this to be true- that a majority of students’ professors either do not respond to their emails or respond aggressively demanding attendance.” There are some faculty members willing to work with students who feel at-risk. However, a lack of across-the-board policy or protocol has exacerbated the ‘inconsistent’ feeling associated with pandemic protocols. Even cleaning protocols have become inconsistent in the second semester of the academic year. “Cleaning and disinfection are carried out inconsistently and left to the primary responsibility of the faculty, staff, and students,” the employee added. “Like students cleaning their own desks after class, coaches cleaning equipment and facilities, and significant understaffing in housekeeping and buildings and grounds.”
As HWS moved through identifying positive cases, or those the health department deemed direct contacts of positives- they were moved to various facilities around the city of Geneva. Multiple local hotels are allegedly in-use, which has made caring for these quarantined or isolated individuals a challenge.
The employees FingerLakes1.com spoke with, who joined countless others helping students who are isolated or quarantined, said that meals are falling far-short of what they need. “The meals are consistently not being delivered at all, often due to disorganization by the administration, leaving students to miss entire meals – sometimes for days at a time,” one of the employees added. “They are also described by the students as ‘borderline inedible’ with many students citing rotten or moldy food, as well as food that is dangerously low in caloric intake and nutritional substance.”
“The food delivered from Saga is dangerously low in caloric intake and nutritional substance. Meals are sometimes not delivered, and student testimonials have shared having to go days without a meal being delivered. These meals are sometimes inedible due to not adhering to a student’s dietary restrictions,” DiSanto added, speaking on behalf of the coalition. “Students in quarantine often have to order food to be delivered from Wegmans or other local restaurants in order to be able to feed themselves.”
“The meals are consistently not being delivered at all, often due to disorganization by the administration, leaving students to miss entire meals – sometimes for days at a time,” one employee shared with FingerLakes1.com. That experience was corroborated by a number of other employees who came forward after students began organizing. “They are also described by the students as ‘borderline inedible’ with many students citing rotten or moldy food, as well as food that is dangerously low in caloric intake and nutritional substance,” an employee with knowledge of the situation added.
Employee: “Isolation for staff, students without any representation or place to go.”
The employees even noted that some staff is being asked to ‘volunteer’ their time while simultaneously told to “prove their value” to administration to prevent further cuts. Multiple employees corroborated this point, noting that continued employment, benefits, and remaining in good standing with administration are often ‘dangled’ over employees’ heads. This theme was common, whether FingerLakes1.com was approached by academic staff, facilities or support staff, or some other category of worker. All feared continued retaliation from HWS if they spoke out about conditions or a lack of safeguards at HWS amid the pandemic.
“Aside from the initial survey – last fall – much of the faculty and staff were never asked about their comfort level with returning. To make matters worse responsibilities were drastically increased due to the institutional short-staffing and lack of protocols,” one of the employees shared. “When faculty or staff do not feel comfortable or safe with their job expectations due to COVID-related tasks or situations, they are handled on a case-by-case basis, and directed to HR for accommodation. If no accommodation can be reached termination or voluntary leave ensues.”
Multiple employees we spoke with shared the sentiment that they are often “reminded to be thankful for the healthcare benefits of their job, with the implication that not being able to reach accommodation would result in losing those benefits or employment in the midst of a pandemic.”
“Campus safety, buildings and grounds, housekeeping, Sodexo, residential education, and other staff responsible for carrying out much of the day to day, campus life activity is severely understaffed and were subject to significant cuts while job responsibilities and risk were increased,” an employee explained. “Many academic departments are severely understaffed, due to various reasons including pay-cuts and positions left unfilled, creating an unrealistic workload and often requiring them to subject to a higher risk environment with limited accommodations available to them.”
Another employee, who was one of the last to speak with FingerLakes1.com as part of this reporting series, described it bluntly: “It’s isolation for everyone- whether you’re COVID-positive or not,” they said. “Students and staff are all being told the same thing, ‘Everything is fine,’ but they know everything is not fine, and they are all seeing different versions of the same, dismissive administration. If they have everyone’s best interests in mind, then they need to start proving it. Isolation for staff, students without any representation or a place to go with concerns.”
HWS officials respond: “Priority remains health, well-being of all members of community”
With regard to concerns raised by staff and students that enforcement is not equal, or that HWS administration is not taking an active enough role in keeping the community safe- Cathy Williams provided the following statement for FingerLakes1.com:
“The Colleges’ priority throughout the pandemic has been and remains the health and well-being of all members of our HWS community and the Geneva community. We are in daily contact with health officials from Ontario County and New York State, and the Colleges meet or exceed every required standard. A full description of the actions taken can be found on the Colleges’ Spring 2021 webpage here: https://www2.hws.edu/opening/. That webpage also includes every letter sent to the campus community, with letters sent at least once a week and sometimes more often. In addition, that site includes the Colleges’ COVID dashboard and links to the Ontario County dashboard and New York State’s HWS dashboard. Various members of the Hobart and William Smith administration have been working with the members of the COVID coalition to address their concerns and to ensure that all students have the resources they need to succeed. We have paid particular attention to requests for greater academic accommodations and will continue to work to ensure that students are receiving the assistance they need when they cannot, by virtue of quarantine or isolation, participate in in-person classes. The Colleges have established an online tool that allows anyone to report a violation of our community standards related to COVID. We respond to every single report we receive. Because most of the COVID violation reports we receive are submitted anonymously, we cannot respond to the individual who submitted the report. We have, however, taken a number of actions to sanction individuals not following our community standards related to the pandemic up to and including suspension.”
Connected to the allegation that COVID tests ‘went missing’ in February, preventing the school from entering mandated two-week closure- HWS issued the following statement to FingerLakes1.com:
“No COVID test samples have ever gone missing. The Colleges send tests to the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass., via one of three ways: driving the tests there ourselves, partnering with Hamilton College to use a courier service to drive the tests there, and FedEx. There was a shipment of tests sent via FedEx in February that was delayed in Memphis, Tenn., through a fault on the part of FedEx. That delay rendered the tests unviable. Students did need to be retested and those test results were reported when received. Members of the Colleges’ administration met with students from the Herald (the student newspaper) so that these student reporters could see the FedEx shipping documents and other paperwork related to this incident. You can read the Herald article here: https://hwsherald.com/2021/03/04/what-happened-to-my-test-covid-19-recoveries-testing-isolation-and-delays/.”
Addressing concerns raised by employees who felt like HWS administration was being ‘dismissive’ toward them- Williams provided the following statement on behalf of the colleges:
“We have the utmost respect for our employees who have worked tirelessly throughout the past year to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our students and one another. They do so with professionalism and compassion, and we are grateful for their commitment. Unlike many institutions locally and nationally, Hobart and William Smith are very proud that we did not lay-off any employees as a result of the pandemic. Our employees are paid staff and faculty, and do not volunteer for the Colleges. In some cases where staff job responsibilities were either reduced or entirely paused as a result of the pandemic, we did make temporary reassignments. For example, coaches whose teams could not compete in the fall and winter were reassigned to pandemic related activities such as assisting with student move-in and testing.”
Below is a copy of the demands outlined by the student coalition at HWS.
Explaining Our Demands: On COVID and Campus Climate
We understand that in creating concise demands, readers lose out on context. Therefore, we created this document to provide context, further explanation, and continued urgency.
While the number of COVID cases on campus are decreasing, our demands are still relevant and necessary. Students, faculty and staff do not feel safe on campus. HWS must show us that they are taking measures to remedy past and current oversights, as well as to proactively curb future COVID spikes on campus.
The Hobart and William Smith Colleges administration cannot continue telling us to trust them, they must show us why we should grant them our trust.
We demand the following actions from the HWS administration:
– Require all professors to provide Zoom or other virtual accommodations to all students, whether they are in quarantine, isolation, at home or concerned for their health and safety .
Explanation: We ask for a recommitment to accessibility. Not accommodating students hurts the whole class, as we lose those student perspectives in the classroom discussions, devaluing everyone’s education.
While the argument that in-person learning is pedagogically and scientifically proven to be better than remote may be true, thinking this way no longer applies in the context of the pandemic and beyond. Not accommodating students perpetuates a rhetoric of ableism. Learning solely in person is not working now and hasn’t been for many students and teachers for many years. We must strive for a more accommodating system which can, in turn, make for a more inclusive, welcoming, and enjoyable classroom environment for all.
In addition, student retention rates for departments will drop if faculty do not accommodate students. Many students who are remote shared that they are now behind on their majors/minors because their department was offering very limited hybrid classes. If students continue to be barred from classes based on lack of accommodations, they may change their major/minor. And if they do not change their major/minor, they run the risk of not graduating on time. This would, in turn, affect job placement rate as well as earning potential.
We are not asking faculty members to radically change the format of their classes. Accommodations can be as reasonable as setting up a laptop in the corner of the classroom so that students may Zoom in to listen to class discussions. At the same time, faculty members can assign an in-person, student volunteer to moderate the Zoom waiting room and chat. While we
acknowledge that oftentimes there is a lack of participation in hybrid classes from students on Zoom, our Students Expectations document seeks to address that very issue on the students’ end.
– Professors must not require an explanation or justification from students who wish to access class remotely.
Explanation: Constantly being dismissed when valid concerns for well-being are being presented can be triggering and distressing, and this is heightened by the stressors already present due to the pandemic.
The Deans are overworked themselves. Only accommodating students who are spoken for by the Deans may sideline many students who are not on the quarantine/isolation list at no fault of their own. In the same vein, allowing students to advocate for their own needs, and work with faculty to determine reasonable accommodations, helps students develop important life skills.
– Professors must maintain equitable approaches to student assessment, considering how access to resources differs when students are taking assessments in-person versus remotely.
Explanation: Students have expressed frustration that all remote assessments are technically “open note.” In other words, we recognize that students taking exams virtually have access to more resources than students taking in-person exams. However, we request that the faculty think creatively about how to maintain equitable approaches, rather than requiring all assessments be taken in person. Maybe all students must take their exams virtually. Or all exams are open-note. Some professors who have implemented the latter have implemented a time-limit on exams so that students must prepare notes in advance in order to complete the test on time (rather than wasting a significant portion of the exam time searching through their notes).
Similarly, we ask professors to consider the equity of their daily assessments. Student testimonials have expressed frustration regarding the perception that students on Zoom are receiving harsher daily assessment from professors, an example being singling out students on Zoom for answering questions, while not implementing the same practice for students in person.
– Provide a safe and healthy food experience.
- Provide multiple food options for students in quarantine/isolation outside of Saga food, such as options from ABP, the Cafe, Wegmans and other local businesses.
Explanation: The food delivered from Saga is dangerously low in caloric intake and nutritional substance. Meals are sometimes not delivered, and student testimonials have shared having to go days without a meal being delivered. These meals are sometimes inedible due to not adhering to a student’s dietary restrictions. Students in quarantine often have to order food to be delivered from Wegmans or other local restaurants in order to be able to feed themselves.
- Saga: Construct barriers between booths, or have every other booth blocked off.
Explanation: CDC guidelines state that “To practice social or physical distancing, [people should] stay at least 6 feet (about 2 arm lengths) from other people who are not from your household in both indoor and outdoor spaces.” The seating areas in Saga are not six feet apart and thus people are not able to adequately social distance and follow CDC health guidelines. The CDC also says that “COVID-19 spreads mainly among people who are in close contact (within about 6 feet) for a prolonged period.” At Saga, barriers are needed in between booths to prevent this close contact and prevent the spread of COVID-19 as people sit and eat at dining locations without masks on for a prolonged period.
Pertinent information: The HWS administration has listened to student concerns and has asked the County Health Department to come back and look through public spaces to determine if they are up to Department of Health standards
– Provide more mental health resources for the student body .
- Check in daily with students in quarantine/isolation.
- Ask how students are doing physically and mentally.
Explanation: Students in quarantine/isolation are under tremendous physical and mental strain, and are in a situation in which their ability to communicate with others has been severely limited. This is especially important in case of emergency, when a student is experiencing severe symptoms that they are unable to understand the full danger of, so they are not likely to contact emergency services themselves.
- Provide a weekly additional group session through the counseling center that is open to all students regarding isolation difficulties.
This demand is in the process of being met. Please publicize this to the HWS community.
- Provide a list of free resources to students such as national crisis lines and the national suicide hotline in the weekly email updates, including links to outside resources such as talkspace, 7cups or betterhelp for alternative counseling and crisis options.
Explanation: Because of this pandemic, all students have had significant life changes occur. None of us have ever experienced a pandemic before and the stress, anxiety, and fatigue that results is unique and needs complementary support. On top of classes, extracurriculars and other commitments, it can be difficult to know where to turn to for help. Moreover, it is well-known on campus that the Counseling Center is at capacity and overworked. Providing these resources–in a public and easily accessible manner–allows for students to have easy access to safe and secure spaces for students and shows that HWS cares about student wellbeing.
- Add a new question on the daily wellness check – specific to mental health. i. An example: “Would you like someone from the counseling center to contact you via email with some mental health resources?”
Explanation: There is a stigma against mental illness that makes students uncomfortable with reaching out for help themselves. Asking students if they want to be contacted alleviates some of the negative connotations around making an appointment with a counselor. Repeated exposure to the availability of mental health resources also helps normalize the reality that many students need extra support during the pandemic and while on campus.
– Enforce COVID-19 quarantine/isolation policies that will protect students. a. Begin contact tracing in classrooms.
- Notify students when they have attended an in-person class with a known positive case during an in-person class. Names do not have to be given.
- If the student who tested positive is assumed to have contracted COVID-19 during the weekend, let the classmates know that. It is very obvious when classmates are not present at in-person classes, and having no official information causes students to fear they were in contact with a positive case.
Explanation: Public spaces like classrooms and dining aren’t socially distanced and safe, either due to the layout itself or the individuals using them unsafely. Student testimonials have shared that many students tried to identify classrooms and dining as potential places of spread to contact tracers, but have had those concerns dismissed.
Pertinent information: The HWS administration has listened to student concerns and has asked the County Health Department to come back and look through public spaces to determine if they are up to Department of Health standards. Also, there was one instance where the County and HWS identified potential contacts in a classroom, which resulted in a class and a professor being quarantined.
- Make sure that students are not symptomatic before releasing them from isolation. i. Faculty are informed when a student’s isolation ends, and many expect the student to return to class in-person. This is problematic if the student is released, but still symptomatic.
- School officials must contact isolated students, ask about their symptoms, then in-turn inform them that there will be consequences if they lie about (or play down) their symptoms.
This demand has been met in the form of a newly implemented “Exit Wellness Check” that students must complete prior to leaving quarantine/isolation. Please publicize this to the HWS community.
- Quarantine students who have come into contact with positive cases even if they have already had COVID.
- Do not turn students away if they request quarantine.
Explanation: There is a risk that students who have already had COVID will become reinfected, with students experiencing worse symptoms with reinfection. Students testimonials have shared that when they expressed desire to be quarantined, they were dismissed. There are professors on campus that will not accommodate students without an official quarantine/isolation designation by the Colleges and Deans. This forces the student to make a calculated risk– do they self-quarantine and risk falling behind in class, or risk the health of their classmates and professor by attending class in person?
- When activities need to be shut down because of COVID cases, shut down every activity, including athletics. No exceptions.
Explanation: Student testimonials have expressed concern that those who are housed with student athletes that are continuing to practice are at a higher risk of catching COVID. At the same time, there is also frustration that student athletes are prioritized over students in general, especially when activities were shut down on campus but athletic teams continued to practice. Allowing athletic teams to practice while closing the library–without providing any public explanation of this decision–conveys the message that the Colleges prioritize athletics over academics.
– Make sure the Colleges consider the safety of all staff, students, and faculty. a. Test all students every two weeks.
- Be proactive in preventing the European strain from spreading on campus.
HWS will continue to test all students every two weeks. Also, some athletic leagues have just voted to have competition, which will result in more frequent testing of student athletes and therefore surpass the 50% testing commitment.
- Hold students who skip testing accountable, and accurately track who has been tested. Hire student workers to do this if needed.
A system of accountability has been in place since the fall semester. The admin has just caught up with all the notifications as of this week and has sent out emails to anyone who has not completed their testing. Repeat “skippers” are identified and face deferred suspension. Please publicize this to the HWS community.
- Make sure the Colleges are also considering the safety of Buildings & Grounds staff, Saga workers, and other on-campus staff.
- This includes ensuring employees not working due to restrictions are compensated for missed work, or reassigned to other locations to maintain shift hours.
Explanation: Employees have been left feeling isolated and without any true representation. Much of the staff were never asked about their comfort level with returning. Responsibilities have been drastically increased due to short-staffing and lack of protocols, and staff are feeling pressured by the Colleges to take on extra work in order to prevent further cuts and job loss. Staff must be provided with comprehensive safety protocols, instead of being handled on a case-by-case basis, which only further isolates employees.
- Testing should be made freely available for any faculty or staff member who requests it. Information about these tests ought to be provided and clearly explained by supervisors.
- Part-time staff who do not have health benefits must be prioritized.
Explanation: Student worker testimonials indicate that staff and their managers have no clear instructions for how and where to get tested.
Related information: NYS just made the vaccine available to eligible HWS staff and student workers. We ask that the Colleges make eligibility criteria clear to its employees, and to provide information on how to access the vaccine.
Transparency and accountability
– Revise the HWS COVID dashboard to include a chart that explicitly states the daily number of total current positive cases on campus.
Explanation: This demand is not a matter of whether we can subtract, this demand is a matter of forcing students to take extra steps to access vital information regarding the state of COVID on campus. In moments of high anxiety—of which we are and have been experiencing for the past year—seemingly simple acts take much more energy to execute than they would in less stressful times. For students who wish to learn the current number of positive cases on campus, the action demands the following effort: locate device connected to the internet; unlock device; type in the website name to Google; click search; search for the chart with our eyes; read the numbers; locate the number of confirmed positive cases; locate the number of recovered cases; subtract the number of recovered cases from the number of confirmed positive cases; solve the simple math; double-check our math by repeating the last four steps. A “simple” action of subtraction is actually a 14-step process for students. Expending this energy in a pandemic, let alone the fact that we are also attending school in a pandemic, drains our energy stores that we need to allocate to other tasks.
At the same time, we recognize that this demand is not as urgent to the safety and health of the community as others included on this list are. We are keeping this demand on the list to highlight the community frustrations regarding the inefficiencies of the dashboard, but are placing emphasis on other demands in our continued work with the administration.
Pertinent information : Brandon Barile has explained that, due to the cycle of testing, the dashboard records data about 2 days behind the original day that tests were taken. However, HWS action regarding quarantine/isolation and contact tracing taken as soon as information becomes available from the Broad Institute.
– Communicate more transparently and frequently with the entire campus and Geneva community.
- Communicating directly with the Geneva community about the state of COVID on campus. Geneva has a right to know.
- Sending video or email updates on (at minimum) Sunday, Tuesday and Friday from the administration to the entire campus and Geneva community.
- Communicating new information as it becomes available.
Explanation: Do not wait until all information is available before communicating with the campus community. Update the campus community as the situation unfolds, not after it has already unfolded. Information is being distributed across the campus community through personal testimonials and rumors. While we recognize the desire to curb community panic by
waiting until all information is available, the small size of our campus community means that word travels fast–whether true or embellished. By updating the campus community as the situation unfolds, the HWS administration will preemptively curb community panic by formally acknowledging the situation, providing advice for how to proceed, and promising more information as it becomes available.
The following two points are examples of information that the Colleges should provide in more frequent updates to the campus community: Updates should include the total number of current positive cases on campus for that day, basic details on how the new cases were transmitted, and reaffirm the Colleges’ expectations for all students. Updates should also include next steps that the Colleges are considering in terms of testing, reopenings, shutdowns, etc.
- SPECIFICALLY FOR ATHLETES/ATHLETICS: Be transparent about what sports are allowed to practice, why they need to practice, how they should be practicing and provide access to their practice plans.
Explanation: Student testimonials have expressed concern and frustration over seeing athletic teams practice during the school-wide shut down. There was the impression that no athletics would be allowed to practice. On top of this, student athletes shared anonymously that coaches are pressuring athletes to attend in-person practices during times of high risk for contracting COVID–whether this be during the school shut down, or when a teammate has tested positive or been exposed. More clear communication as to which teams are allowed to practice at particular moments in the semester will assuage student concerns, as well as empower students to speak out when they see teams practicing when they shouldn’t.
– Write and publish a full account of what occurred from the dates of 2/8/21 to 2/16/21 regarding the 96 cases on campus, the delayed testing, and the decision to remain open.
Explanantion: The Colleges mishandled the two week period in which 96 positive cases of COVID were documented and tests were delayed. Sharing a detailed, public account of what occurred, explaining the admin’s perspective, and acknowledging specific instances where the Colleges could have been more transparent will work toward reassuring students, faculty and staff that they can continue to entrust their health and safety to the Colleges. For those who do not know what this demand is referring to: The NYS threshold for mandating a two week shut down (at the time of this event) was 100 positive cases documented in a two week period. From Jan. 1 to Feb. 12th, HWS documented 96 positive cases. During this two week period, there was a delay of test results, and 23 cases were counted in the following two week period, despite many students initially being tested in the prior two week period with the 96 cases. During this time, students, faculty and staff received contradictory and infrequent communication from the administration regarding what was happening, how close we were to
the 100 case threshold, and what actions the campus community needed to take. On Friday, Feb. 5th, students received an email stating that all non-academic activities on campus were paused. But then, on Monday, Feb. 8th, we received an email saying that we were not yet near the 100 case threshold. By that point, the Colleges had documented around 60 cases, but the cases were rising and when we did get to 96 cases, there were no messages from the administration to the campus community to contextualize that number and give us information on how to proceed.
– Investigate the elements of campus culture that are spreading COVID. a. Determine what events, clubs, athletic teams, or student organizations are key spreaders of COVID-19 on campus.
- Publish the findings to the campus and Geneva community, and declare what actions will be taken against those groups to prevent further spread.
Explanation : Student testimonials have expressed concern and frustration that certain groups of students on campus are not being held accountable for violating COVID policy. A lack of acknowledgement on the Colleges’ part that there are certain groups and activities that are more likely to violate, and repeatedly have been violating, COVID policy has inspired a perception among students that “WASPs” are being treated with more leniency than other students.
The request that the Colleges publish the findings to the campus and Geneva community is an effort to increase transparency, inform individuals so that they may take action to avoid participating in any campus culture that puts themselves and others at risk, and to maintain equitable practice.
Pertinent information: If students are living together off campus, they can technically party together without masks according to NYS policy. However, if we are aware of gatherings that exceed the number of residents in a house, then we can report the gatherings and the Colleges can take action.
– Create a clear and concise list of rules and the corresponding consequences for breaking each rule.
- Consequences for each rule will be clearly stated. The severity of the consequences will appropriately reflect the severity of the rule broken.
- When a student breaks a rule, they will be held to the same consequences as any peer also caught breaking the same rule.
Explanation: It feels as though the Colleges’ are currently taking a case-by-case approach to enforcing rules, which creates an environment of confusion and inconsistency. Student testimonials and discussions have revealed concern that at-risk students, such as Black students, students on scholarship, and others are facing harsher and more frequent consequences for breaking rules than White students and students of higher economic backgrounds.
- Cease framing blatant and egregious student violations of the Colleges’ COVID-19 policies as “mistakes.” We have been living in a pandemic for an entire year now. There are no mistakes, only calculated risks.
Explanation: We recognize that this particular demand goes hand in hand with the pressure students feel to attend classes in-person when they may be carriers of COVID or positive themselves. And we acknowledge the thought that the Colleges put into each email that is sent out to the campus community. However, we maintain this demand in an effort to highlight the fact that sometimes messages fall flat, with the use of language such as “mistakes” being an example.
- Actually enforce the Colleges’ mask policies. It should not be on the shoulders of the student body to constantly reprimand our peers.
Explanation: We recognize that enforcing policies, particularly day-to-day policies such as wearing masks, is a two-way street. This demand is a reflection of the affective labor overload that students, faculty and staff are experiencing.
Pertinent information: The COVID Coalition has created a Student Expectations document where students can pledge to hold themselves and their peers accountable. The document is currently circulating among the student population, and signatures will be transferred to the document as collected. The document can be viewed here .
Other pertinent information: All reports submitted through the Anonymous Reporting System are followed up on by staff. However, when reporters don’t provide their own name, the staff cannot follow up with the reporter to provide information from their follow up. We suggest that if a student submits an anonymous report that they want to be informed on, then they should either provide their name in the report, or in an email to Brandon Barile.
- Share basic facts with the student body regarding disciplinary actions taken due to infractions against the Colleges’ COVID-19 policies.
- We are in no way asking for the personal information of students and admin involved. All we want is an email stating, “Two students were suspended on Tuesday due to their hosting of a party that violated Campus COVID policy.”
Explanation: Student testimonials have expressed concern that the Colleges are not taking enough–or any–action against students who violate the Colleges’ policies. By providing basic information to the student body, either in the form of a biweekly or monthly update, the Colleges can assure its community that actions are being taken.