Readjusting to a somewhat normal semester at Swarthmore has come with challenges for students, faculty, and staff alike. Since August, the campus community has been readjusting to seeing one another’s faces in person, sharing study spaces that have been practically deserted for a year and a half, and growing accustomed to dorm spaces that are housing more students than ever before. Perhaps most importantly, the readjustment has required grappling with the question no one wants to think about: with COVID-19 case rates four times as high as they were at this time last year in the US and the Delta variant’s ability to infect even the vaccinated, is it possible to mitigate the virus while continuing business as usual? And if there is a substantial outbreak on campus, what happens now that the infrastructure from the past two semesters designated to contain the virus (an isolation dorm far away from campus, stringent testing for all students, and 50% student capacity) has disappeared?
Though it is too early in the semester to see if/how the virus is directly affecting students, one source of virus-related anxiety among students is the sheer amount of people on campus this semester and the corresponding lack of adequate adaptations from the administration.
To clarify, every Swarthmore student belongs at Swarthmore and is entitled to use the facilities available. This is not a question. It seems, though, that Swarthmore’s administration did not fully consider options to mitigate traffic to on-campus facilities while also ensuring that students could stay safe during a surging pandemic. For example, the lines for swiping in at Sharples during peak afternoon hours have stretched out of the front doors up the hill towards Parrish on multiple occasions, and the lines inside wrap around the servery. This is not the fault of Dining Services staff, who work very hard to ensure we have food to eat and a place to eat it. Rather, it calls to question whether or not the possibility of overcrowding at Swarthmore’s few on-campus dining locations was a consideration for administrators spearheading the effort to bring all students back to campus. Though it is too early to know whether or not maskless dining in crowded Sharples rooms is linked to cases of COVID-19 on campus, it is a possibility. The lines have become a particular concern for students with a small window to eat in between classes, given that both scarfing down meals and forgoing them altogether are detrimental to health.
Despite the college’s attempts to revert student life back to a pre-pandemic status quo, perhaps it is best to incorporate more logistical protocols from the previous academic year along with new protocols to accommodate the crush of students who have returned to campus. For example, Essie Mae’s Snack Bar now accepts meal swipes after 4 p.m., a proactive policy that gives more options to students while also mitigating traffic from Sharples and Sci.
The Café at Sci Center and Essie’s could accept meal swipes before dinner times. Additionally, more dining dollars and Swat points could be allocated to students, so that it would be easier for them to turn to food options either off campus or away from Sharples during lunch times. While the college has introduced the G.E.T. app with the intention of mitigating overcrowding, its interface is cumbersome to use and its direct application does little to nothing to reduce lines during busy lunch windows.
Swarthmore is by no means alone in this predicament; many college campuses are experiencing overcrowding. However, due to Smarthmore’s small size and single main dining hall which was already tight in a typical pre-pandemic year, the effects of an increased student population are felt more acutely.
We, The Phoenix Editorial Board, call on administrators to find solutions to mitigate overcrowding in dining locations and other campus locations. With the global upsurge of Delta-variant COVID-19 cases, it is more important than ever to take proper precautions to ensure that the student body this 2021-2022 year will not have to relive and repeat what Swarthmore students did in the Spring of 2020.