Georgetown University parents have flooded social media and administrators’ inboxes with messages urging the university to reopen campus for Zoom-weary students in the spring.
The effort to reopen campus began in the Class of 2024 parent Facebook group in September. Posts complaining about the negative effects of virtual learning on students quickly evolved into a full-fledged lobbying campaign to reopen campus.
After gathering momentum, parents created a separate Facebook group, “Students and Parents Advocating for Georgetown Students on Campus,” which now has over 500 members. The group’s efforts culminated in the circulation of a petition which has garnered over 1000 signatures from parents, students and other supporters as of Oct. 22.
The university originally planned to house the entire freshman class on campus but walked back its decision in August as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to worsen. Approximately 500 students are living on the main campus this fall because of academic requirements or unstable home situations.
Because of a supposed lack of communication from the university about spring semester plans, 52 parents of first-years signed and sent a letter to the university Sept. 21 demanding greater transparency and urging the university to bring students back, according to a Facebook post with a copy of the letter.
“We urge you to find a way to have freshmen on campus this fall, and no later than January, even if some or all classes are online,” the letter reads. “Is it imperative that the Class of 2024, who missed prom, graduation, and innumerable other once-in-a-lifetime high school experiences, is allowed to have what remains of their freshman year on campus? We believe the answer to this question is an emphatic and overwhelming yes.”
After receiving a muted response from the university to the group letter and other direct messages, the group published the petition Oct. 13. The social and emotional benefits of being on campus, the petition argues, outweigh the potential risks of infection spikes. As of Oct. 22, more than 214,000 COVID-19 cases have emerged on more than 1,600 college campuses across the country, according to a New York Times database.
“Unfortunately, COVID-19 will not be gone anytime soon, and we need Georgetown’s leadership to get their students who wish to be on campus to be allowed to do so no later than January,” the petition reads. “Students must have the opportunity to be a part of the Georgetown Community and the benefit of in-person learning which is only truly possible if they are on campus.”
The petition also demands the university be more transparent with the university community about its COVID-19 response plans, a critique raised by many students and faculty over the course of the pandemic.
The group hopes the petition will garner support from the broader Georgetown community, not just parents of first-years, according to Heidi Hermelin, the parent who wrote the petition.
“The goal of the petition was to create a platform for more people to have a joined voice to the administration that we feel it’s very important to the education and the emotional wellbeing of the students, and not just the freshmen,” Hermelin said in an interview with The Hoya.
The administration expects to publish a preliminary plan for the spring semester by Nov. 16, according to a systemwide email from University President John J. DeGioia (CAS ’79, GRD ’95).
“We are closely monitoring our capacity to meet the public health needs of our community, as the conditions of the pandemic continue to evolve. This involves reviewing a number of internal and external factors,” the email reads. “We are also closely monitoring the experiences of our peer institutions, with the understanding that each school’s approach reflects their individual context.”
In the meantime, the university will begin publishing more frequent updates for families about the university’s pandemic response. Students and families can also sign up for the university’s daily COVID-19 digest and watch DeGioia’s weekly video policy updates, according to an email from a university spokesperson.
Despite these moves toward greater transparency, the desire to reopen campus persists, and some parents have undertaken more intense strategies to compel the university to invite students back.
Some parents have suggested withholding tuition in the spring if Georgetown does not allow students to return, while others have commented that their student will begin applying to transfer schools, according to several posts in the Facebook group.
Other parent graduates have shared they will not be donating to the university until administrators communicate a plan to bring students back to campus.
This article was updated Oct. 24 to add details about the threat posed by COVID-19 on college campuses.