It’s a strange time to be a college student. St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens is a microcosm of what’s happening nationwide.
St. Thomas has about 1,400 undergraduate students, and more than 500 of them live on campus. Those students are moving into their dormitory rooms as the cloud of COVID-19 looms over everything.
“We are taking as many steps as we can to provide the safest environment we can but there are no guarantees and there are risks, we’re being very upfront with our students about that,” said David Armstrong, the university’s president.
Freshman Mykal Davis knows the risks, but that didn’t stop him from checking into his dorm.
“I’m nervous about, like, going to college, but COVID, I think there’s good enough responsibility here that like everybody will be fine so I don’t have too much of a problem with it,” Davis said.
His mother is more worried than he is.
“I’m kinda nervous but I’m looking around and I’m seeing everybody in masks so I’m a bit more comfortable,” said Annette Davis, Mykal’s mom.
With help from her mom and sister, Hannah Perez moved into her room, anxious to get on with the junior year of college.
“They’re taking a lot of safety precautions and everything else so I don’t think there’s much to worry about,” Perez said.
Hannah’s mother said she was confident her daughter would be safe.
“We come from a hotspot as well in Destin, so we’ve seen everything and I’m pretty comfortable with it, I think she’ll be fine,” said Brand Bingham, Hannah’s mother.
The university mandates the wearing of facial coverings or masks, social distancing is in effect, classroom seats are spread far apart, and they’ve even eliminated dining in the dining hall. All meals are grab and go, to discourage students from congregating.
But Notre Dame, Michigan State and the University of North Carolina have stringent protocols as well, but all of them had to shut down and switch to remote learning because too many students came down with coronavirus.
“But I think we have an advantage over those large universities, large private and public universities, we’re smaller and I think we can establish more control and keep our guidelines and our protocols because we’re smaller,” Armstrong said.
“We feel we’ve done what we need to do to give our students the best opportunity to have an education that they prefer, we’ve done a survey to ask the students what they want and overwhelmingly, they want to be back on campus.”
Students want to be back on campus and athletes want to play. Fall sports are in full swing, with the football team practicing. Armstrong said all athletes were tested for coronavirus and only four of 333 students tested positive. Those four are being isolated.
“Yes, are there challenges because of close contact in sports? If we can maintain the students on the field with no COVID, that’s how we’re gonna be able to move forward,” Armstrong said.
All students at St. Thomas also have the option of taking their classes online, so Armstrong said if they have to, the university can shut down quickly and switch to remote learning. Of course, they’re hoping to avoid that scenario.