It is no secret that being quarantined on campus is a stressful situation. Being suddenly uprooted from your living space, having your routine disturbed, spending ten days in isolation and being anxious over testing positive can leave any student feeling vulnerable and unsettled. In addition, students are sometimes mistreated while they are in this fragile condition, having to cope with a lack of communication with those who are supposed to be tending to their welfare and with insufficient resources available to see them through the quarantine.
I would like to add a small disclaimer about the treatment my friends and I received while in quarantine. A few professors and staff proved enormously helpful and assisted us in any way they could. They listened to our frustrations and assisted us when those who were supposed to be taking care of us did nothing. My support person who was assigned to me was one of those caring people who listened patiently to me and my friends, and stuck by our sides in our most desperate times. My aim in publishing these concerns in the Voice is not to submit an angry account of my experience, but to make the campus more aware of how the quarantining of students could be handled more humanely.
For those of you who do not know me well, I am a rather level-headed person who tries to approach every situation with a cool head and an open mind. However, I can say without a doubt that during my time in isolation I hit both a new low for my mental health and a peak of anger. It started with my experience with the Director of Emergency Management, who had set up a Teams meeting with me to discuss contact tracing. During the meeting he mentioned that I lived in a campus house. The girls in Corner House are not a wild group of people and we have gone to great lengths all year to be safe. The Director, however, refused to believe so even after I explained that my house members and I wore masks around each other, communicated mostly over virtual platforms, and only gathered for an in-person meeting once a week on our screened porch. He repeatedly asked me the same questions, like a police interrogator determined to catch me in a lie: “How do you and your housemates act around each other?” was followed with a skeptical “Truthfully, how do you and your housemates act around each other?” His constant refusal to believe my answers to his questions was deeply offensive. I was told that my friends, too, some of whom were in quarantine because of me, went through similarly unpleasant interviews with the Director. He seemed not to realize that he was no longer working as the Chief of the Wooster Police Department, but rather as Head of Security on a college campus with students who are not out to break the rules and give him a hard time. As Wooster students, we are taught that honesty, respect and trust are qualities we should assume in one another. How are we supposed to uphold these values when we are treated with suspicion and disbelief by the head of Security?
Another problem my friends and I experienced stemmed from the lack of communication between us and the staff who are given responsibility for our welfare. Once Security quarantines or isolates a student, there is no exchange of information between the Wellness Center, the student’s support person, or the Director of Emergency Management. Information given by one dean’s office is contradicted by another. Students are burdened with having to re-explain their situation over and over again, which becomes very taxing. The students are also forced to untangle complications that arise from miscommunication, or no communication, between the various offices that are responsible for providing them with clear directives.
A further problem that students face in quarantine is the lack of adequate mental health resources. Days of isolation can cause students to experience a multitude of emotions that are really hard to deal with, and they may not know how to ask for help even if they want to. Since isolation can be such a dark place, it would be beneficial if counselors were on hand to reach out to quarantined students and offer them comfort and support. My friends and I were repeatedly told to attend a Let’s Talk session. A Let’s Talk session, however, provides scarcely enough time to even begin to explain one’s situation, much less receive any solace. Furthermore, the counselors in the Scots Telehealth program are not able to be genuinely helpful because they are located all around the country, they are totally unfamiliar with quarantining at Wooster. What the College really needs are local counselors who are familiar with the quarantining process at Wooster and who, instead of spending time simply trying to understand the students’ particular situation, would be able to focus on advising and guiding them through their days in isolation.
While I admit that the speed with which people were quarantined or isolated was highly effective, and I appreciate the College’s efforts to keep the spread of COVID to a minimum so that the campus could remain open, I hope to have shown here that the treatment of quarantined students and the resources that were offered (or not offered) to them could have been improved. Obviously the administration did what they thought was in the best interest of all students, but for those of us who endured periods of quarantine or isolation, it was not enough. When my friends and I brought up several of the problems we experienced to members of the administrative staff, most of those we spoke with were quick to rationalize the College’s actions but were not willing to discuss possible solutions. Having our concerns pushed aside, the accounts of our time in quarantine dismissed and our feelings disregarded, was both upsetting and disempowering. We did not need rationalizations. We needed to be listened to. And if by any chance quarantine becomes necessary next year, it needs to be changed.