Op-ed: Why Northeastern should proceed with reopening


Courtesy Kaplan International Colleges

With several safety precautions in place, some NU students are confident in returning to campus.

Elena Plumb, contributor

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc across America, with over 5 million cases and over 160,000 deaths. States have reversed reopening agendas, public officials have encouraged the reinstatement of lockdown orders and schools across the nation have moved online for the semester. However, Northeastern University is proceeding with the reopening of its Boston campus under the NUFlex model, and this might just be the best decision for the well-being of the community. 

Since the onset of the pandemic, Americans, particularly college-aged individuals, have been silently fighting another health crisis: poor mental health. Shelter-in-place orders and social distancing requirements ushered in months of fear, isolation, revoked independence and disrupted routine. These safety measures were necessary to protect public health, yet they proved detrimental to mental health. 

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study which analyzed data from April through June of 2019 and compared it to data from the same months in 2020 had three major findings: 

  • Anxiety disorder increased from 8.1 percent to 25.5 percent
  • Depressive disorder increased from 6.5 percent to 24.3 percent 
  • Suicidal ideation increased from 4.3 percent to 10.7 percent

It is evident that young adults suffered disproportionately. The same study found that 75 percent of respondents aged 18 to 24 reported at least one mental affliction during the height of the pandemic, and a separate CDC study reported that one in four young adults aged 18 to 24 considered suicide within the past 30 days.

Colleges have been prioritizing physical health, yet in the process, they’ve neglected the mental health of their students, faculty and staff. Shutting down campus entirely would be far too authoritarian, as some semblance of campus life could restore normalcy for students who struggled mentally during isolation. Further, not all students benefit from a stable home life, so it’s important that campuses remain open to some extent to provide refuge for these students.

However, forcing all Northeastern community members to return to campus for in-person instruction would also be unfair, as students with pre-existing health conditions and older employees are particularly endangered by the virus. 

The NUFlex model offers the perfect solution: Classes will be offered both in-person and online, allowing students and faculty to choose whether or not to return to campus. Professors and students who deem campus unsafe for any reason can continue teaching or learning remotely, while those who wish to move back to the Boston campus can do so. Every member of the Northeastern community is in a unique situation regarding their physical health, mental health, home life and financial status. Therefore, each person should have the right to make a personalized decision.  

For those who decide to return to campus, Northeastern has established several safety protocols

The mask mandate, which has proven successful in reducing community spread of COVID-19, the initial quarantine period, frequent testing regimen and contact tracing techniques will make Northeastern’s campus one of the safest places to be this fall. Additionally, Massachusetts is considered one of the six U.S. states that meet the criteria to reopen safely.

While Northeastern will take care of the student body when it comes to safety, students also need to learn to take care of themselves. College serves as the transitional period from childhood to adulthood, and it’s much more difficult to become a functioning adult when your college semesters are spent at home with your parents cooking every meal. Moving away from home teaches students how to be independent in budgeting, cooking, laundry, time management, discipline and more. Closing campuses throughout the duration of the pandemic will undermine the development of these life skills.

Moreover, Zoom is considered to be an inadequate learning tool, with its pixelated screens and frequent glitches disrupting communication and instruction. To cultivate workplace competence, a student must familiarize themselves with collaboration, debate and presenting — all skills that are difficult to nurture in a virtual environment. As an institution that values experiential learning and career readiness, Northeastern should proceed with reopening to ensure that safe in-person classes are available to any student who wishes to participate. 

Physical health is important, but so are mental sanity and life skill development. Shutting down campus is a one-size-fits-all solution that fails to account for the diversity of the Northeastern community. Each individual faces a different set of circumstances during this pandemic, and the campus should proceed with its safe, conscious reopening for those who decide that returning to campus is the best choice for their overall well-being. 

Elena Plumb is a second-year journalism major. She can be reached at [email protected]