At-Risk Students Look Just Like You
On July 22, 2020, Furman University announced that in-person instruction would resume for the Fall semester, while providing the option for some students to take the entire semester online. In doing so, Furman temporarily altered their requirement that all students live on campus. For the Fall 2020 Semester, students decided whether to attend classes remotely or live on campus and adhere to Furman’s COVID-19 health and safety guidelines. While many students planned their return to campus, over 10% of the student population at Furman chose to not return to campus during the Fall semester for various reasons according to administration officials. Many of these remote learners based their decisions on health concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the growing concern over how the virus would impact the Furman community.
One such student, senior Nicole Weyer, leapt at the opportunity to take classes from the safety of her home. Due to her health status, Weyer felt unsafe returning for in-person instruction, doubting the ability of her peers to follow Furman’s health and safety guidelines. “If I were to have come to campus,” Weyer stated, “I would have been in my room 22 hours a day.”
While regretting the loss of the beginning of her senior year, her on-campus employment and her campus involvement, Weyer is grateful for the safety that comes with her isolation at home. Weyer says her return to campus in the Spring is greatly dependent on the empathy and effort of the Furman Community.
“It took two years to share my medical status with my friends,” Weyer explains. “There are a lot of students who won’t share their medical statuses due to stigmas. You can’t assume everyone around you is a perfectly healthy 20-year-old. Some of our peers don’t have the luxury to safely stay at home.”
Other higher-risk students, such as junior Leanne Joyce, opted to return to campus and participate remotely from her apartment in North Village. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Joyce has avoided situations with large groups, and has only gone to a grocery store once since March. Frustrated by her peers’ failure to practice physical distancing and the lack of mask-wearing she witnessed on social media over the summer, Joyce worries for her safety in the coming semester. “It’s not enough just to say you care,” Joyce said, “your actions matter. If you care about your friends and our Furman Community, now is the time to show it.”
For at-risk individuals and members of the immunocompromised community, it appears feigned concern of COVID-19 is not enough. Although these students belong to an invisible minority, they are asking for real compliance to the COVID-19 health and safety guidelines as well as empathy from our community, because their lives may depend on it.
Dr. John Wheeler, in collaboration with Furman’s Public Safety and Advisory Group, offered several resources for students on campus this fall. Although he advised that "specific questions of a medical nature should be addressed to the Earle Student Health Center," Dr. Wheeler also noted that Housing Staff and the Student Office for Accessibility Resources (SOAR) are available for students with questions about issues such as on-campus living and accessibility for those taking classes remotely.
The Earle Student Health Center has not yet commented on specific measures to support the at-risk community on campus.