After an extended absence, Dartmouth students have returned to Hanover. Thousands will now, once again, be able to experience a form of campus life — something considered unattainable mere months ago. The success of this operation in the face of COVID-19 has largely been a result of the dedication and efforts of both the College administration and town in creating a feasible, actionable reopening plan, and the student body for holding up its end of the bargain. For this, both parties should be commended.
Out of the more than 8,000 tests administered since move-in, only two have come back positive for COVID-19. These testing numbers suggest that most students are following public health guidelines. Despite the accusations and tensions that have seized Hanover over the past few months, Dartmouth has so far reopened without allowing COVID-19 to spread. Testing has gone smoothly, and the bitterness of spring and summer seems to be giving way to a spirit of collaboration. Everyone in the Dartmouth community — students, staff, faculty, administration and local residents alike — has a stake in ensuring that these initial successes continue.
To do so, all involved parties must act in good faith and with mutual respect. Notions of shared respect have been somewhat wanting in recent months — whether through town manager Julia Griffin scolding “selfish students,” a lack of transparency from the College in making administrative decisions or irresponsible students holding gatherings in violation of public health policy.
But despite these tensions, we’re off to a good start. To keep the current progress going, the College and town must ensure that they treat students as full and respected members of the community, and in turn, students must not abuse that respect.
The risks of any party failing to hold up its end are tremendous. Should students act carelessly, we may encounter COVID-19 outbreaks that inevitably derail the in-person term and hurt the community at large. And should Dartmouth or the town resort to threats and unnecessarily harsh or punitive measures, student buy-in may wane.
For students, the path forward is clear: Respect your peers and abide by public health guidelines. It isn’t hard. Every member of the community is relying on us, and every one of us has an obligation to do our part.
For the College and town, it is crucial that in the process of containing the spread of COVID-19, it does not unjustly vilify and alienate the student body through threats or condescension. Students have shown themselves willing to do their part, and good-faith measures work better than punitive ones.
None of this is to say that violations of public health measures should go unpunished. The small minority of students who host parties and disregard COVID-19 guidelines threaten us all, and they should be held responsible. But in punishing a few irresponsible community members, the College and town must not misconstrue those violations as evidence that the entire undergraduate population is inherently unprincipled.
If they do so, the College and the town will only undermine the community spirit that otherwise exists among the College, students and the town. And the more people who feel detached from the community’s mission, the more people will ignore it, or act in defiance of it. If Dartmouth truly wishes to maintain collective action against the spread of COVID-19, it must resort to trust, and not to fear.
The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, the executive editors and the editor-in-chief.