Duke has reinstated a slew of new restrictions, including an outdoor mask mandate. This is but the latest example in a string of inconsistently enforced, unnecessary policies which seem to be more concerned with the public appearance of the University rather than overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic or for student welfare.
Before the vaccines came out last year, restrictions made a lot more sense. However, as of August 30, 98% of students and 92% of employees are vaccinated against COVID-19. As a result, the “majority of cases are minor cold and flu-like symptoms, if not asymptomatic”— according to Duke’s own reporting. For the vaccinated, COVID is now a minor inconvenience at worst, and certainly not a life-threatening issue.
The new policies serve only to hinder learning and community activities. In a time when almost anything can be learned remotely, in-person experience and instruction is the only justification for Duke’s exorbitant tuition costs, especially because students crave in-person social interaction and learning after a year of isolation. We must accept that breakthrough cases will happen, and instead of eliminating every single case, Duke’s goal should be to reopen as quickly and safely as possible. Students or faculty who want to isolate for personal reasons should be given all the resources to do so with no questions asked, including Zoom connections in every classroom (Duke certainly has the means and the brainpower to make this possible). Anyone who tests positive should still be required to isolate, but the mandates for everyone else must stop. Duke is promoting a quality college experience, and not delivering.
Moreover, Duke has had little consistency to its current policies. For example, during orientation week, freshmen were packed together for the 2025 class photo, but not nearly as packed together as buses between East and West Campus were throughout the week. Simultaneously, students were expected to wear masks while washing their hands alone in the bathrooms. These inconsistencies were ignored, however, because Duke deemed it important to have a public in-person start to the school year. If Duke really cared about social distancing, they could have run more buses, or placed seats further apart at O-week events. Further actions like closing the basketball courts only encourage students to find off-campus activities, where they will interact with potentially unvaccinated strangers. The administration had the chance to be strict on these requirements during move-in week by quarantining students to ensure that people from all over the world did not bring COVID-19 onto campus. However, since Duke did not take the necessary steps then, it can only be assumed that the purpose of implementing these new requirements now is more about public appearance than student welfare. This is not to advocate for further restrictions (which are wholly unnecessary); Duke’s reputation stands on its own and these publicity stunts aren’t doing anyone any good.
Duke is prioritizing public appearance at the expense of student mental health. It is time for Duke to show leadership at the forefront of bringing America back to normal.
Ken Kalin is a Pratt first-year.