The Breeze Editorial Board discusses JMU moving online.

It’s hard to be a Duke right now. It’s hard to know so many fellow Dukes who are sick. 

Now that JMU has the highest number of COVID-19 positive cases out of all Virginia public colleges, it’s frustrating to be a Duke. As a school that leads itself on civic engagement, it looks like JMU has missed its own mark of holding itself accountable. 

As JMU students, it’s disappointing to see the university using the idea of “student policing” as a scapegoat. Yes, people were wearing masks. Yes, every other chair was roped off in classrooms. Yes, there was hand sanitizer everywhere. Yes, there were cleaning blocks. Despite all these efforts, the virus still spread.

Before students stepped on campus, we were slapped with the concept of “student policing,” which is the idea that we need to hold each other accountable. We need to call people out for not wearing masks. We need to say something when we see a party. We need to social distance. 

JMU has repeatedly taken to social media, and its communications director and spokesperson, Caitlyn Read, has even applauded students for following the health and safety guidelines on campus.

Meanwhile, the University Health Center is turning people away who don’t have appointments. The Breeze recently received a tip from a student who came in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. She said that when she called the health center, the individual who answered the phone instructed her to continue going to her in-person classes. 

Right now, Dukes are being pulled in every direction by the university. Don’t go to class if you’ve come in contact with someone who has COVID-19. Go to class if you’ve come in contact with someone who has COVID-19. Make up your mind. 

Many students and parents have reached out to The Breeze to express their distaste and concern regarding the way the university has decided to operate surrounding COVID-19. JMU students on social media are dissatisfied with the actions the university has taken to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Harrisonburg residents were worried about a JMU outbreak. The city has seen a near-vertical increase in cases since its population nearly doubled with the return of students. We’ve heard from countless residents who are afraid to go to work or the grocery store.

The bottom line is, more should’ve been done to protect JMU students and Harrisonburg residents from this foreseeable spike of COVID-19 cases. While the university used hope and positivity to encourage students to come back to campus, it wasn’t enough to stop the virus in its tracks. 

All or the majority of classes should’ve been online in the first place. Students should’ve been allowed to deliberately opt into online-only classes for this semester, allowing them to stay home and limit the number of people in Harrisonburg.

But this wasn’t an option. There were classes with more than a hundred students that offered less availability for social distancing and required some students to sit on the floor in groups. Some students were forced to attend in-person classes where they felt uncomfortable due to rigid attendance requirements.

At this point, many in the JMU community think that the university cares more about its revenue than its students. It’s not hard to understand why they feel that way. Tuition was due before class even began.  

Offering a lower tuition price for a semester of online classes would’ve been a wise decision to keep students dedicated to JMU instead of looking for education elsewhere at a more affordable price, especially with so many struggling financially during the pandemic. 

By assuring students that JMU would open as usual, with precautions to keep them safe and an assortment of classes either online or hybrid, the university retained its students’ trust and their tuition revenue. 

JMU took advantage of trust from the incoming freshman class. These students moved in a week ago, some of whom are out-of-state students who now have to scramble to figure out how to get home. Several obstacles come with this: time, money and the ability to safely arrive home without getting anyone sick. Was it worth it? 

This reopening experiment was a massive failure for JMU. Students and Harrisonburg locals alike will be ailed with long-term health complications, the local economy will take another hit and off-campus students will inevitably be stuck in unnecessary leases.

Classes need to move fully online and stay that way until things are under control. It’s become clear that wearing masks and socially distancing from one another isn’t enough to stop the spread of COVID-19. Students have had enough with the secrecy and false positivity in the wake of their fellow Dukes falling ill.

The Breeze’s Editorial Board represents the official stance of the paper on important issues such as this one. For more information, contact Editor-in-Chief Katelyn Waltemyer at breezeeditor@gmail.com.