Op-ed: Northeastern should allow guests into dorms

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Marta Hill

Northeastern’s COVID-19 guest policy restriction is unnecessary.

Karen Kurson, contributor

Northeastern has handled the COVID-19 pandemic exceptionally well. However, at this point, some restrictions are almost excessively cautious. One rule in particular seems especially harsh: the guest policy. Guests who do not attend Northeastern are barred from entering the dorms, even if they can present a negative COVID-19 test or vaccination card. Boston’s COVID-19 regulations for vaccination and masking do not support the extremity of this measure. The exclusive guest policy is an unnecessarily restrictive rule that prevents students from enjoying the college experience to the fullest.

To Northeastern’s credit, it has mandated many protections and checks against COVID-19, such as daily wellness checks and weekly testing. Cases are carefully monitored, and so far, no hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have been recorded this past semester. The measures in place contain the spread as much as reasonably possible, going above and beyond the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which do not mandate frequent testing for vaccinated individuals.  

Most of Northeastern’s COVID-19 policies have been relaxed since last school year, as circumstances have changed, yet the school’s stance on guests from outside the community has remained stagnant. As vaccines, tests, and treatments for COVID-19 have become increasingly accessible, the fears surrounding the virus have decreased. While this policy has helped maintain the school’s low rate of infection, it can also afford to reform, given Boston’s indoor mask mandates and the markedly high vaccination rates on campus. 

The new, highly contagious, Omicron variant puts students at risk for catching COVID-19 but poses limited health concerns to otherwise healthy and vaccinated students due to its low hospitalization rates. Additionally, Northeastern has now mandated a booster shot for all students and staff as of Jan. 18 and barred all spectators from sports games. If these rules were expected of outsiders, guests would pose little to no additional threat to students.

It is important to take the virus seriously, but it is also important to be realistic about the low risk of complications upon infection among an almost entirely vaccinated student population. Northeastern should recognize the return to normalcy students are making. Northeastern’s ban on outside guests limits the spread within dorms but fails to recognize students’ exposure off-campus. Boston is a densely populated city and a college town with a bustling social scene. For N.U.in students, who reside off campus and routinely take public transportation to classes, outside interaction is necessary. To shelter the dorms from people outside the “Northeastern bubble” is to pretend that students are isolating themselves from the rest of Boston.

The guest policy looks past realistic aspects of student life. It is not only ineffective at keeping students from interacting with those outside of the Northeastern community, but it negatively impacts those living on-campus. Students’ stress levels and need for counseling are rising, due to mental health battles exacerbated by COVID-19. We should encourage students coming out of virtual learning to engage in as much authentic, in-person interaction as possible. Most students living on campus could somehow benefit from having guests over. Many of these students are first years who are already making a difficult transition: one that could be eased by the comfort of loved ones. Others have partners from outside Northeastern and would likely appreciate the privacy of a dorm. Personally, I’ve enjoyed developing friendships with classmates but would also love to share my world with my little sister, who could then experience college first-hand.

After my fully-vaccinated mother couldn’t enter the dorm she helped me move into, my frustration with the guest policy grew. To get other students’ opinions on the topic, I sent out a Google Form via Instagram and Slack workspaces and discovered that my beliefs were more popular than I had imagined. When asked if non-Northeastern students should be allowed to enter dorms with proof of vaccination or a recent COVID-19 test, the response was a resounding “yes”. One-hundred out of the 102 students who responded felt comfortable with this. Eighty-three students voted that their college experience had worsened due to the restrictive guest policy. 

Some discontented students have already broken the rule and snuck in guests with their friends’ Husky Cards. Allowing guests in conditionally would ensure that all guests are entering safely. This policy shift may not categorically remove the risk of an outbreak, but it could decrease the chances that unvaccinated guests will sneak in. Providing vaccination status has become commonplace at many Boston venues, such as Paradise Rock Club and Coolidge Corner Theatre. Mayor Michelle Wu has recently made these policies even stricter, adding a vaccination requirement for city workers and citizens entering public venues

Northeastern has taken COVID-19 seriously, which has yielded great results. However, Northeastern has looked past the progress made on campus and the desire of most students to return to a more normal experience. It has gone above and beyond federal and state standards. The “Reopening Massachusetts” plan aims to “ease social restrictions while minimizing the health impacts,” rather than maintain the most stringent policies.  I believe that guests from outside Northeastern should be allowed in with proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test. This adjustment would keep students safe and rid the university of an unnecessary and unpopular policy. 

Karen Kurson is a first-year political science and communication studies combined major. She can be reached at [email protected]