The Case for Near Campus Student Testing, An Open Letter

Editor’s Note: Several members of the Phoenix Editorial Board have signed this letter including our Editor Emeritus, Campus Journal Editor, and At-Large Editor.They were not involved in writing, the decision to publish this letter, or the editing process. 

Dear President Smith, Vice President Terhune, Dean Tomoko, Ms. Anderson, and others,

We write this letter to request that you reconsider the status of near-campus students for the spring semester of 2021 with regard to, first and foremost, the College’s testing protocol and as a secondary request, access to campus resources. It is clear that both we, the near-campus students impacted by this decision, and you, Swarthmore College’s administration, want to do what is best to guarantee the safety and well-being of the Swarthmore community — faculty, staff, and students alike. It is in this spirit that we would like to advocate for our inclusion in the college’s COVID-19 testing policy, and to raise the latter question of our access to campus resources.

1) Testing Accessibility

Students who live in Swarthmore Borough have few options when it comes to COVID-19 testing. Since Swarthmore College does not permit near-campus students to be tested through its protocol, the only reasonably close option is to try to schedule a test through the CVS on the Baltimore Pike about 1.5 miles away. Yet, while this is a tenable walking distance, CVS denies tests to anyone who does not come in a car to do drive through testing, which is the only option at this location. While some near-campus students do have cars, this is not the majority, and carpooling with a potentially infected Swattie is not a reasonable solution either.

It is disappointing that during the COVID-19 pandemic, Swarthmore would overlook the safety of enrolled students minutes away from Parrish Hall. Even if the rest of this letter is dismissed and access to other campus resources is still prohibited, we ask that you seriously consider allowing near-campus students to be routinely tested just like other nearby students who live in the dorms. As it stands, Swarthmore is creating a health access disparity in its own immediate community. By providing near-campus students with access to essential COVID-19 tests,  Swarthmore would be aiding in closing this gap and assuring that more Swatties are accounted for during this pandemic.

2) Discrepancies in the Tri-Co

It’s surprising that Swarthmore has chosen to operate in such an exclusive way, considering that comparable institutions, namely Bryn Mawr and Haverford, are including near-campus students in their testing procedures. Haverford and Bryn Mawr, with student populations and locations similar to those of Swarthmore, have provided a blueprint with successful outcomes that we could model. 

According to their respective COVID-19 dashboard websites, as of October 23, 2020, Haverford College has returned five positive tests, three of which were from students, and Bryn Mawr College has returned seven positive tests with no faculty/staff members infected. While surely any positive test is a real threat and ought to be taken seriously, Swarthmore has returned eighteen positive tests, seven of which were from students. The notion that Swarthmore’s unique exclusion of near-campus students from on-campus resources is a major factor in the college’s general success in dealing with COVID during the Fall 2020 semester seems, frankly, unlikely. 

Regardless of whether or not Haverford and Bryn Mawr’s decisions to include near-campus students in their testing protocols and general campus life originally emerged out of necessity due to — as some have suggested — a larger percentage of Haverford and Bryn Mawr students living off-campus in general or out of financial necessity, the results show that Haverford and Bryn Mawr have maintained comparable COVID-19 results to those of Swarthmore, as discussed above. Moreover, Haverford, Bryn Mawr, and Swarthmore all have similar rates of students living off campus: Bryn Mawr 8%, Swarthmore 5%, and Haverford 2%. While Swarthmore may typically have a larger student population, Haverford and Bryn Mawr have both welcomed back all of their students for both semesters of the 2020-2021 academic year as opposed to Swarthmore’s half-and-half plan. Surely it is the case that every school has a unique set of circumstances that impact decisions around COVID-19. And yet, it is not beyond the pale to conclude that if Bryn Mawr and Haverford can successfully and safely include near-campus students along with students from all class years simultaneously, Swarthmore could account for the relatively small but overlooked group of us near-campus currently enrolled students while only welcoming back half of the student body each semester. Or at the very least, extend testing to us.

3) The Garnet Pledge and the Myth of the Bubble

It is clear that Swarthmore has done a good job adapting to the trials and tribulations of college life and sensible COVID measures during the Fall 2020 semester. Common sense social distancing measures, ample testing for on-campus students, and establishing and enforcing the Garnet Pledge have all kept the Swarthmore community relatively safe and healthy compared to other institutions. This success, however, is not a result of Swarthmore maintaining a hard and fast campus bubble. The College limiting contact with the community is a must, but an impervious boundary is 1) not possible and 2) not part of the plan that has kept many safe during the fall of 2020. With staff members and faculty coming and leaving campus daily and on-campus students being permitted to leave campus at will, Swarthmore is not kept safe by virtue of being an utterly closed system. This has not been the case during Fall 2020, and even if near-campus students are not permitted to be included in the testing protocol nor granted access to on-campus resources in the Spring of 2021, the campus during COVID is not designed to be and will not be a complete bubble. 

It appears to currently enrolled near-campus students that we are easily prepared to uphold the Garnet Pledge just as students living in dorms do. Students in dorms are not restricted from leaving campus, going to the grocery store, etc. so long as they practice social distancing measures, and (naturally) are included in Swarthmore’s robust testing protocol. With regard to students living in dorms going off-campus, the Garnet Pledge states:

“Approved residential students will consider the risk to oneself and others prior to deciding to leave campus and will limit travel to essential errands (for food, medications, toiletries, and other essential personal items), work, or emergencies.” 


“Students understand that if they leave campus for any reason, they may be subject to a period of isolation or quarantine.”

If on-campus students are permitted to enter and exit campus at will for the reasons listed above, it seems that enrolled near-campus students too can be expected to uphold the same standard of caution while not posing any increased threat, so long as the College considers granting testing to currently enrolled near-campus students. While Vice President Terhune cited the need to “really limit on- and off-campus interactions” during the most recent public Zoom meeting on Swarthmore’s COVID policy, it seems that this impulse and our requests are not mutually exclusive—particularly if the College would be willing to include the relatively small number of us (roughly estimated at around fifty) who are currently enrolled near-campus students in the testing protocol. It is also the case that current on-campus students have reported non-student Swarthmore Borough residents frequenting campus grounds in spite of the College’s policy to the contrary; it is saddening that “limit[ing] on and off-campus interactions” is invoked to bar students from testing and resources like the libraries or limited in person classes, but not in other, more frivolous scenarios. Ultimately, it seems that if the College would expand the testing protocol and access to campus resources to encompass near-campus students, an identical standard of caution could be maintained while drastically improving the situation of said students. In fact, would it not be more cautious to have testing information on near-campus students if there is a concern of on-campus students interacting with them during the spring of 2021?

All this to say, we hope that you, the administration of Swarthmore College, will be amenable to our requests. Swarthmore is a really wonderful school and many of us came here knowing that this is a place where we are not just a number or one of 10,000+ undergraduates. We are not divorced from how our school is run, but are instead members of a community that can work together, look out for each other, and trust one another—particularly in times of upheaval. But for us to be overlooked, even as we continue to pay tuition and live just blocks from campus, undermines that very sense of our community that is so important to us.

Wishing you all health and safety,

Enrolled near-campus students:

Eleazer (Lee) Cohen ‘21

Malcolm Davis ‘21

Michael Kourakos ’21

Will Bein ’21

Naomi Park ’21

Kelly Finke ‘21

Julia Dalrymple ‘21

Dylan Clairmont ’21

Shelby Dolch ’21

Anya Slepyan ‘21

Sharon Hu ‘21

Fouad Dakwar ‘22

Mika Maenaga ’21

Chris Precise ’21

Vanessa Levy ‘21

Rivkah Orah Cohen ’21

Atziri Marquez ‘22

Lilia McGee-Harris ‘21

Anjali Singapur ’21

Cheyenne Valenzuela ‘22

Alessandro Getzel ’21

Matthew Salah ’21

Diego Marcano ‘21

Kat Capossela ’21

Ray Youngblood ’21 

Maeve Hogan ‘23

Ercong Luo ’21

Emma Miller ‘21

Matt Koucky ‘22

Ellis Buckminster ‘22

Lizhi Guo ‘21

Momoka Keicho ‘21

Meena Chen ’21

Jonathan Guider ‘21

Chase Smith ‘22

Josh Geselowitz ‘21

Ray Sidener ‘21

Kiara Rosario ‘22

Madison Bowe ‘21

Faith Becker ‘21

William Khan ‘21

Other Swatties in support:

Josephine Thrasher ‘21

Julia Dalrymple ‘21

Tiffany Zheng ‘22

Robert KiaNouri-Zigmund ’22

Jacob Clark ‘21

Ben Stern ‘20

Ramiro A. Hernandez ‘23

Sarah Weinshel ‘22

Chris Stone ‘23

Alison Kim ‘23

Megan Wu ‘23

Elliot Kim ’23

Yiying Jiang ‘22

Bria Dinkins ‘21

Gidon Kaminer ’22

Rozella Apel-Hernandez ’22

JJ Balisanyuka-Smith ’21

Janet Suárez ’24

Jake Chanenson ‘21

Mehtap Yercel ‘24

Elizabeth Rosenthal ‘23

Maya Tipton ‘23

Kai Williams ‘24

Alejandra de Jesús Sánchez ‘21

Edna Olvera ‘21

Olivia Smith ’22

Kevin Hudson ‘21

Aleina Dume ‘23

Charisma Hasan ‘24

Nora Sweeney ‘24

John Martin Tomlinson ‘23

Kayla Nieto ‘23

Charlotte Pasko ‘23

Whitney Grinnage-Cassidy ‘24

Praise Idika ‘23

Rohan Hejmadi ‘21

Cris Alvarado ‘21

Abdulwasay Qureshi ’24

Quynn Hotan ‘23

Zaina Dana ‘21

Nara Enkhtaivan ‘22

Mary Camuso ‘23

Colin McLeish ‘18

Sacha Lin ‘20

AynNichelle Slappy ‘21

Catherine Williams ‘19

Kassidi Cheng ‘21

Cassandra Stone ‘20

Ben Hejna ‘19

Shayne Rothman ‘20 

Daniel Dellal ‘18

Alex Frost ‘20

Grant Brown ‘21

Annabel Zhao ‘24

Sonia Linares ‘22

Kestrel Valdez ‘23

1 Comment

  1. There are a lot of different situations for people living off campus, and I don’t want to paint with a broad brush here, but I do want to point out that students were made aware of this policy, in detail, a long time ago. I’m not sure if this petition is coming out now because those who chose to live off-campus (and by chose, I do mean those who chose this over other reasonable options and not those who don’t have any other choices or who only had really bad choices) just now figured out that the rules are going to apply to them in the spring, but many of the students living off campus made a choice knowing what the consequences would be. The college wants all students to live on campus so they can enforce rules about testing and conduct that are necessary for safety. The petition is asking that students who live outside the scope of those rules should get the same benefits of living on campus. Given the restrictions on campus (e.g. one guest in a room at a time) that those living off campus don’t have to follow, it doesn’t seem fair or safe to the students (and staff and faculty) who are on campus to allow off-campus students to use on campus facilities. I do think the college should expand testing — more testing is clearly always good — but I also think that parts of this petition are irresponsible.

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