As a mask-free blowout bash shook coronavirus-wary Illinois State University this week, Bradley University remained relatively quiet.
When it comes to college parties, does size matter? Maybe, maybe not.
As Bradley University hopes an all-out quarantine will avoid a COVID-19 outbreak, most students have not been exposing themselves to sizable shindigs that have plagued other campuses nationwide, including an ISU fiesta that sparked national attention. Rather, students on the Hilltop often have opted for much smaller-scale socializing that nonetheless put them at risk for catching and spreading the disease. Somehow, BU says, students mistakenly think they can dodge COVID-19 by swapping crazed keggers for minor meet-ups.
"They think they are doing the right thing because it’s small," says Bradley spokeswoman Renee Charles. "But it’s still an issue, especially when there are no masks and they are sitting so close to each other."
Small might not be foolproof. But, at least on the surface, the downsized approach seems better than what we’ve seen nationally on many campuses, including this week in Normal.
Wednesday, ISU got a wee-hours visit from the NELK Boys, a gaggle of Canandians with a popular YouTube channel boasting almost 6 million followers. Their shtick: barging into college campuses in their homeland and America, partying and pulling pranks at each stop. Their slogan is "Full Send," which essentially means partying without worrying about consequences, which just might not be the wisest approach to a pandemic.
Just last week, to combat the cornavirus, the town of Normal banned gatherings of more than 10 people in the area around ISU. But when the NELK bus rolled into town, the surprise visit sparked a party of 200 mask-free revelers at an off-campus apartments, according to Newsweek. But as Normal police rousted students from that address, they zipped over to another address to keep the party going. Cops and students went around and around like this for a while.
Meanwhile, the NELK Boys captured much of the festivities on video. Normal has vowed to seek charges against the NELK Boys, while ISU might seek to penalize students. But some students say it’s all the fault of the NELK Boys, according to WEEK-TV.
"It’s on them because they should know better and they are influencers," a sophomore named Kaitlyn huffed into a TV camera. "They are influencing people that are my age or younger to go out during a global pandemic and putting other people at risk."
Uh-huh. Right. Nothing stinks worse of unmerited privilege than finger-pointing aimed anywhere but the mirror. Methinks this young lady might spend some of her college by taking a course in ethics or logic.
Meantime in Peoria, Bradley administrators have this week declared a quarantine to avoid a COVID-19 explosion. The campus has just 50 positive cases, most of which involve students, a rate that compares favorably to other schools and is much better than some. For instance, the University of Georgia has an astounding 2,600 student infections, according to the Associated Press. Granted, UGA’s student body is almost eight times bigger than Bradley’s, but its caseload is 52 times higher. Yikes.
Still, what’s worrisome at Bradley is that 500 students — about a tenth of the student body — had been put in quarantine for possible exposure before Tuesday’s announcement. So, to avoid things getting out of hand, all students are quarantined to their residences, both on and off campus, until Sept. 23.
Looks can be deceiving, but that exposure risk seems surprising for some observers, such as myself when I’ve visited Bradley Hall to teach English. I’ve seen nothing but caution on campus. Students been fastidious about face masks, wearing them even in open areas outside. In fact, the other day, I saw a Spicoli-ish skateboard kid roll by, in the middle of an otherwise uninhabited street, looking nonplussed in his knit beanie — yet nonetheless wearing a mask.
Such observations were echoed in a campus email this week by BU President Stephen Standifird: "While most of you are doing the right things, I am particularly concerned about the lack of compliance regarding the necessary behaviors to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. We are seeing both large and small gatherings where masks and physical distancing are not observed."
As for "large" gatherings, the school has noticed just a few sizable parties, says spokeswoman Charles. More common are "lots of small ones with eight to 10 people where masks and physical distancing are not in place. Most of our positive case clusters can be traced back to these."
Some are jamming into dorm rooms — "How you can get 10 in a room is beyond me," Charles says — to socialize. Often, it’s not even a mini-party; they get together just to eat dinner or hang out, maybe among just a five or so attendees.
At these meet-ups, many students wear no mask and refuse to socially distance. Why? My guess is, young people believe they’re invincible. Plus, some students (echoing, one might guess, their parents’ views) think coronavirus concern is pure poppycock.
But to a large degree, Bradley says, many students believe any risk lies mostly at big bashes. Avoid those, and there are no worries
"At the small gatherings, they are thinking, ’It was only a couple friends, so it’s not a big deal,’" Charles says. "But without masks and distancing, it has proven to be an issue."
In such cases, it’s hard to get too judgmental from the outside. For one, these are young people, many away from home for the first time. There’s a lot of temptation to socialize, if only with a few others.
For another, as for this notion of minimizing risk by limiting interaction, that probably seems familiar. We do that not only in private, but in public at restaurants and stores. And when we’ve been told we can’t, we’ve lost our minds.
Still, of course, Bradley certainly can’t let COVID-19 run amok. Here’s hoping the quarantine gets things under control.
For students, self-restraint and a little isolation might be tough. But if students were anything like me at that age, they might take solace in this truth: quarantine at school might not be the greatest time, but it’s a heck of a lot better than living under the roof and eyes of your parents.
PHIL LUCIANO is a Journal Star columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com, facebook.com/philluciano and (309) 686-3155. Follow him on Twitter.com/LucianoPhil.
via The Register-Mail
September 11, 2020 at 06:40AM