College classes were set to start on Long Island this week and next, and that presented a potentially big problem: partying.
Across the nation in recent weeks, one university after another has begun in-person instruction only to have to pull back within a week or two because of a Covid-19 outbreak and switch immediately to online learning again. The source of infection: parties involving dozens to hundreds of students and, often, lots of alcohol.
All it takes at one of these sophomoric soirées is one infected student to spread this terrible disease to dozens, if not hundreds, of others.
So, to all the college students out there, we say this: Your school administrators and professors have spent the past six months trying to figure out how to bring you back to your campuses safely, while the coronavirus pandemic has continued to rage in many parts of the country. Don’t blow it!
We get it. Many, though not all, of you are looking for the full college experience — translation: classes accompanied by partying. It’s a centuries-old tradition. Your four years of college, you’ve been told again and again, are the best years of your life, your time to work hard and play hard, your chance to live it up a little before the workaday world consumes you. Now you’re being told to wear and a mask and stay at least six feet apart from everyone — not the optimum partying conditions.
First, the hype about college being the best years of your life is just that — hype. Sure, there’s plenty of fun to be had in college, but there’s plenty of fun in the adult world beyond the university campus. Holding off on the partying for another six months or a year, until we can nail down a vaccine, won’t kill you.
But Covid-19 could. Think young people can’t die of the disease? A 6-year-old just did in Florida. So, yes, young people can get really sick and die.
Moreover, you could very well give the disease to people significantly older than you — like your professors, many of whom are in their 60s, 70s and older, the most vulnerable ages for contracting the disease and potentially dying of it.
Also, many Long Island college students commute to school from home, and each night they return to their families, which have varying levels of vulnerability to the coronavirus. An outbreak on any of our college campuses thus could cause an outbreak in surrounding communities.
So, it’s really simple: Put off the partying for now. We don’t believe that’s too much to ask. Yes, you’re being asked to delay gratification, to grow up faster than usual, to become full-fledged adults before, perhaps, you’re ready to do so. These perilous times, however, call on every one of us to make sacrifices for the greater good.
Yes, the greater good. It’s a concept that we hope and trust you will study in one of your humanities classes. The English philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-73) championed the idea: In one’s actions, one must ask what will do the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people. In this case, the correct course of action is a no-brainer: Abstain from partying to protect public health.
On any college campus, believe it or not, about 20 percent of students never drink and never party; about 60 percent are somewhere in the middle, often holding off on partying until their sophomore and junior years, though occasionally experimenting with alcohol before that; and about 20 percent are hard-core revelers from the get-go.
Persuading the hard-core partiers will be the tough part for university officials. We agree that the focus should be on educating college students about the benefits of holding off on partying — and the benefits of mask wearing and social distancing. But we also recognize this reality: Administrators and professors likely won’t convince everyone. And in cases in which students are engaging in prohibited behaviors, namely mass-gathering parties, consequences for such actions must be meted out swiftly, including potential expulsion from the college or university.
The stakes are simply too high to do otherwise. People’s lives and livelihoods are on the line here. If universities don’t take a hard stance against partying, then all of us — the larger public included — are potentially endangered by a second wave of infection.