With the fifth pandemic-era semester underway, Harvard’s Covid-19 guidelines have left students divided over the necessity of restricting a near-universally vaccinated campus amid the Omicron surge.
Tensions boiled over last week when some Quincy House residents sparred over the University’s Covid-19 response via the House’s email list. In the email chain and across campus, some students have railed against Harvard’s rules — which mandate testing three times a week, masking indoors, and dining socially distanced — while others applaud them.
“You have a side that’s for lifting the restrictions, and then you have a side that’s more in favor of keeping the immunocompromised safe,” Quincy resident William H. Thompson ’23 said. “I don’t necessarily think there needs to be two sides to this debate.”
“It seemed like both sides are coming out of this with bad will and bad faith,” he added. “People on both sides are tired.”
Patrick I. Adolphus ’22, whose email denouncing Harvard’s restrictions sparked the chain of more than 100 replies, said he feels much of Harvard’s social life has “dissipated” and he has had a “poorer quality of education” due to last year’s remote classes.
“Harvard should do a better job of balancing the benefits of its restrictions with the costs,” Adolphus said. “I think that the costs haven’t been given ample consideration.”
“We are not in the same place that we were two years ago, so we shouldn’t act as though we are,” he added.
In his email, addressed to Quincy House residents, the House’s faculty deans, and Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, Adolphus called Harvard’s Covid-19 restrictions “absolutely ridiculous” and a return to normalcy “long overdue.”
“If someone is really that worried about covid after getting their 3 vaccines, they are free to get 12 more and continue isolating themselves in perpetuity,” he wrote in the email. “No one is forcing you to give up your 7 masks and to interact with others like a normal human being instead of treating one another as nothing more than vessels of disease.”
Adolphus’ email was met with a range of responses — from messages of support and defense to memes and scathing censures of the author.
Following the email’s circulation, around 20 students attended a forum hosted by Quincy Faculty Deans Eric A. Beerbohm and Leslie J. Duhaylongsod Friday for residents to discuss their views on Harvard’s Covid-19 policies.
Gabriel E. Lopez-Garrido ’22-’23 said he feels Harvard’s Covid-19 restrictions are overly harsh compared to other schools and called the policies “horrible.”
Lopez-Garrido added that he believes students should test at most once per week and called on Harvard to establish separate housing for students who are more concerned about contracting Covid-19.
“How many billions of dollars does Harvard have in their endowment? If they really wanted to nip this in the bud, why not just make separate housing for the students who really, really need it?” Lopez-Garrido said.
Thompson said he believes Harvard’s decision to enforce the same regulations on all students — a “one-size-fits-all policy” — is “performative.”
“If we’re having cases on Harvard’s campus, and it’s not affecting those who are immunocompromised, and they are staying more isolated, and hospitalizations aren’t going up, then it’s really not a problem that I see,” Thompson said.
University spokesperson Jason A. Newton declined to comment on student criticisms of Harvard’s Covid-19 policies.
At the same time, some students, like Fernando J. Soca ’23, said they consider the school’s policies reasonable or even “lenient.”
“I just wished that Harvard would have been a little more strict in terms of online classes being mandatory,” Soca said.
Maya I. Peña-Lobel ’23-’24 called the College’s decision to allow professors to hold classes in-person or online for the first week of the semester “wise and reasonable.”
Some students said they approved of Harvard’s decision to allow socially-distanced dining nearly a week earlier than previously planned.
Natalia C. Villanueva ’23, who contracted Covid-19 over winter break, said she understands the necessity of Harvard’s regulations even though she wishes there were greater “flexibility.”
“I know that some things can be an inconvenience, but they’re a necessary inconvenience,” she added.
—Staff writer Vivi E. Lu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @vivielu_.
—Staff writer Leah J. Teichholtz can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @LeahTeichholtz.
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