Teszler: The ’23s Got What We Deserved

Given dire pandemic conditions, ’23s are privileged to be on campus at all.

by Max Teszler | 1/21/21 2:00am

“Callous and full of blatant disregard,” “doing everything possible to screw us,” “ridiculous” — over the past six months, these have been the words with which the members of the Class of 2023 have described the handling of the pandemic. As a ’23 myself, I agree — our class has been screwed over. We’re enduring an unmitigated surge in COVID-19 cases, a disastrously slow vaccine rollout and more than 400,000 deaths in the U.S. All of us are victims of a negligent response by the federal government and the misfortune of this virus arising in the first place.

But the ire of my fellow ’23s is directed at a much different target: the College administration, for supposedly treating us unfairly, especially in comparison to the Class of 2024. Yet in light of dire pandemic conditions and widespread transmission of the COVID-19, we have gotten more than we deserve. Any time on campus is a privilege, regardless of the particulars of what term we’ve been assigned.

Since the College announced its plan for the academic year at the end of last June, there has been a steady trickle of complaints across sites such as Twitter, the Class of 2023 GroupMe and Librex, usually surging after a particular email or announcement from the administration. Frustration is natural, especially when there’s been so much confusion. Some students thought they would be guaranteed two terms when making their initial selections last July, but got only one. The shifting start dates have further complicated travel plans and logistics.

But many of the complaints have veered into pointless quibbling about which particular terms we have been assigned. Occupancy is reduced to lower population density and stop COVID-19 spread — so there was always going to be compromise about which academic terms students would receive. Given the options, the College made reasonable decisions on term allocations. We were given priority for 21X, giving us the chance for sophomore summer together. Many in our class complained about not getting spring term, worried they were missing out — but with major events such as Green Key not happening in person, the relative benefits of each term are largely the same. We get the chance for interaction with fellow members of our class and campus — vital to the physical and mental health of young people. This winter, even though it wasn’t many of our first choices, might still have socially distanced interaction, with the College allowing students to visit other dorms and promoting a diverse list of outdoor winter activities.

What was even more galling is the entitlement of some students regarding getting time on campus at all (a problem admittedly applying to more than just the ’23s). During a pandemic, our time on campus is not preordained. It is contingent on our ability to safeguard the College community from the disastrous effects of this virus — not just for students, but for professors and other town residents. These latter two groups raised much concern prior to the start of fall term, with over 100 faculty members signing a letter asking the College to reconsider on-campus housing. A widely upvoted Librex post deeming their effort “a little temper tantrum,” a post which might have come from any class. The tone in the ’23s GroupMe was only marginally less inflammatory, including accusations the professors were “gaslighting” about their concern for students. Yet the professors’ desire to spare Hanover from COVID-19 was well-intentioned, even though I don’t believe such a drastic step as complete cancellation of term was necessary. 

Fortunately, the College has been able to create a relatively safe environment so far — justifying our presence on campus this winter even as national pandemic conditions worsen and a more contagious COVID-19 strain spreads. Since July, the College has discovered 84 student cases on campus and the surrounding area, successfully directing quarantine and self-isolation to stop broader outbreaks. Our overall positive test rate of 0.12% is a fraction of the national and even New Hampshire average. Not every school has been so lucky. Larger schools, especially many public universities, simply couldn’t afford the level of testing we did, and had large outbreaks of COVID-19 on campus. 

But many ’23s — despite largely not being on campus last fall — still took time to complain about the virus containment measures, deriding ’24s for reporting COVID-19 violations, or alternatively, rooting for more ’24s to slip up and open spots for the spring. Yet the College’s good fortune in containing the virus is what allows us to be on campus now; a large-scale outbreak or persistent failure by students to follow the rules wouldn’t have helped our chances to get more terms on. Fortunately, only a small fraction of ’24s got sent home, while other members of the class took available spots on the waitlist for winter term. Yet that’s just become another source of complaint, supposed proof that ’23s keep getting the “short end of the stick” — despite the fact there was nothing stopping more ’23s from signing up for the waitlist this term. 

To put our treatment in perspective, other schools with similar resources have taken even more aggressive action than Dartmouth; sophomores at several other schools aren’t getting much time on campus at all. Stanford University canceled all in-person housing for the winter after seeing new state restrictions, while Harvard University stuck to a plan to prioritize freshmen in fall and seniors in spring, leaving sophomores out. Complaining about our predicament when we’ve been given privileges even beyond some of our Ivy League peers totally misses the mark. I hope our resentment will not detract from our willingness to follow essential safety measures, as our country faces the highest rate of community transmission so far in the pandemic, with a highly contagious variant spreading.

I’m not saying the College should have canceled on-campus housing this fall or winter, nor should we attack students who expressed frustration. I am on campus this term, and without a doubt, I’ve complained about the College’s plan. But rather than whine, let’s make the most of this winter in a safe way. Already, I’ve enjoyed the chance to walk with friends I haven’t seen in 10 months and have felt newly invigorated in my classes, joys which shouldn’t be lessened by the knowledge that some ’24s are also walking around campus. Ultimately, it’s not another class or the administration which is our enemy — it’s the horrible virus that is COVID-19.