Opinion editorial

Undergraduates must follow MIT’s COVID-19 policies

The health of our classmates and community members is in our hands

Within one day of the U.S.’s COVID-19 death toll reaching half a million individuals, an MIT Alert Sunday evening announced that Q-Week had been extended by 34 hours, to 5 p.m. Tuesday from the original endpoint of 7 a.m. Monday. A later announcement Tuesday morning stated that the original extension to 5 p.m. had been shortened to noon after all undergraduates were tested following Q-Week’s extension.

In the Sunday evening announcement, Dean for Student Life Suzy Nelson and MIT Medical Director Cecilia Stuopis wrote that the reasoning for the extension was that multiple students were not testing at the right times, in addition to reports of violations of MIT’s COVID-19 undergraduate policies. Where the testing miscommunication is understandable — between the hectic rush of moving-in and classes starting — people choosing to meet and to go to off-campus apartments during Q-Week is a clear dismissal of the policies.

Yes, the many rules and regulations can be confusing, and MIT’s administration has seldom been competent in matters of student life. However, the undergraduate student policies are distinctly informed by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines and state regulations.

With regard to Q-Week, the CDC advisory on travel recommends that after traveling, individuals not only get tested but also stay home and self-quarantine for a full seven days (even if the test is negative). Breaking self-quarantine to gather in person both puts MIT community members in danger and shows a concerning disregard for publicly available health guidelines. The other violation cited by Nelson and Stuopis — socializing without face coverings in an off-campus apartment — also directly opposes CDC recommendations and scientific evidence indicating that wearing a mask prevents the transmission of COVID-19. Students at a school renowned for its STEM programs should know better.

MIT’s decision to allow undergraduates to socialize without face coverings in pods after Q-Week shows a deliberate level of trust in our maturity, judgement, and empathy. Peer institutions Harvard, Columbia, and Princeton have no pod program, heavily limit the number of student guests undergraduates can host in their rooms, and strongly advise or require wearing masks during these gatherings. The least that MIT students can do is to demonstrate they are worthy of this trust by following the rules that will afford them the privilege of regularly socializing sans masks in pods.

As we’ve seen in conversations on the MIT Confessions Facebook page, graduate students already do not trust undergraduates to abide by community guidelines. Furthermore, in a June 2020 survey, only 36% of undergraduate respondents believed that it was “extremely” or “very” likely that all on-campus undergraduates would follow MIT’s COVID-19 policies. Only one week into the spring semester, those who doubted the ability of all on-campus undergraduates to follow health and safety guidelines have been proven right.

The repercussions of COVID-19 policy violations go beyond disciplining the offending group, impacting the rest of the undergraduates on campus and those living off campus but still involved in UROPs or in-person classes, not to mention graduate students, staff, and faculty. Members of MIT’s dining hall, facilities, security, and other support staff put their lives and families’ lives at risk daily to earn their livelihood and to ensure undergraduate’s safety and wellbeing at campus. Reciprocating their sacrifice with flagrant rule-breaking is disrespectful and embarrassing.

Not only did the Q-Week extension result in extra ennui, but there were also students, we among them, who had made plans and appointments with external institutions that had to be rescheduled or canceled. Jeopardizing the health and routines of fellow undergraduates while simultaneously ignoring Institute guidance is selfish and disruptive. While you might not think twice about endangering yourself and your classmates, there are dozens of undergraduates who are thousands of miles from home or who have no option but to stay on campus — and even more who are diligently observing guidelines — whose ability to safely attend school is being compromised by your actions.

We know it’s already been a long year and being sequestered in a few hundred square feet is stifling, but we still have an entire semester to go. The Division of Student Life asked students to pack light; if these violations continue, everyone may be forced to move out — again. For the remaining 13 weeks of the semester, it’s imperative that everyone on campus makes sure to get tested twice a week and follows the COVID-19 policies closely. Following these policies is a 2,425-way street: Each and every undergraduate on campus should comply with protocols that prioritize their physical health, and even this cannot guarantee that no one contracts the virus. 

Editorials are the official opinion of The Tech. They are written by the Editorial Board, which consists of Publisher Joanna Lin, Editor in Chief Kristina Chen, Managing Editor Chloe McCreery, Executive Editor Wenbo Wu, and the opinion editor, a position that is currently vacant.