Have you ever avoided taking care of something because you know it will cost more money than you can afford to spend right now?

It’s like hearing your car make a weird noise when it first starts up and ignoring it for months that turn into years until suddenly you’re stuck in the parking lot at 10 pm with a car that won’t start… Because you needed groceries and clothes and well, your car worked just fine.

How about the sink that might not quite shut off all the way or those shoes with the holes in the back that aren’t perfect, but they still fit all right, so you keep wearing them anyway? After all, it’s not quite broken. So you make it work because there are bills to pay and a new pair of shoes or a plumber, those were not part of the plan.

Have you ever gotten sick and tried to deny that it was happening, drank more water, or avoided seeing a doctor because you were “feeling fine” with your night sweats and sore throat to boot? Maybe there’s just no time to be sick when there is work to be done and schoolwork to attend to, so you keep on going about your life hoping for the best.

These are just some of the things that college students might face on a regular basis, at least those that are privileged enough to have a car and feel safe enough to seek healthcare when they need it. But with colleges facing the question of whether or not to open up late when fall comes around, many people are worried about distancing and the possibility of students getting sick. When you think about it, there have been too many instances of schools not being able to handle meningitis, norovirus, the flu, and so much else when it comes to a college campus.

Worrying about if someone will get sick is all good and well until someone actually does and there is no logistical contention plan that can be upheld. At that point, the “if” question becomes a “when” that is where I believe a bigger question needs to be asked.

If an institution is already underfunded or simply unprepared to handle something like coronavirus, should college campuses be opening at all?

Let’s talk about it.

When it comes to campus health services, one student here found herself at Duke’s health center due to extreme pain in the left side of her abdomen—the nurse practitioner told her it felt like gas and sent her home. With some Gas X, she woke up the next morning with incredible pain, and with a trip to the ER, she found that it wasn’t gas but a larger hemorrhage around her left kidney caused by a cancerous tumor.

She would have passed it off as a one-time mistake, but in listening to more stories and classmates, she realized she wasn’t alone. Not by far. Her article here is one that goes into detail of student’s struggling to get good healthcare on their college campuses from people who pay attention to them until it’s too late; while this is a problem whether or not there is a global pandemic right now, there are at least two reasons this matter becomes more pressing.

Photo by Eric Muhr on Unsplash

Colleges have lost money due to the pandemic and the number of students who have pulled their admissions for the semester/quarter, extra fees paid back for dorms and the like (for schools willing to refund), and even extra tests to guarantee that some students and faculty will be assured of their safety. That being said, the money has to be coming from somewhere and as we have all seen with the CARES Act when money moves quickly, there are mistakes made along the way and people left behind as that happens. With these colleges, people are questioning whether the money has been allocated to benefit the students or just enough to act as if that’s the idea.


Liability is one of the biggest worries that many colleges have right now. Not only are they worried about being able to handle the possibility of students getting sick, but also the aftermath of what happens if they do and it does not go well. It’s a valid thing to worry about, as K-12 is all wondering the same thing. Colleges, however, have a much different battle when it comes to adults attending their campuses yet seeking services those schools are responsible for providing and providing effectively.

We haven’t quite defined what effective care for COVID looks like when people can’t even agree that it exists, therefore, are schools ever not liable?

Even as the Washington Post reports that schools like Duke have a plan to “pay for coronavirus tests for all those living on campus before they begin classes” we need to recognize that Duke is a well-funded Private college. What about the not so well funded schools, the public universities, or the HBCUs? 

As the president of Brown University, Christina Paxson, was asked what would make her more or less comfortable as a parent of an incoming student, she responded with this: “I am in favor of very carefully crafted liability protection that in no way, shape or form permits us to be careless with people’s lives.”

In this sense, the school would be forced to either have a solid hold of exactly what they were doing or be held fully liable for whatever mistakes were made. Some people might call that tough love but for Paxson, this is one way to handle it and for most who have made no commitments, at least she has made a decision at all.

No school has a good handle on the issue because of either one or both of the reasons listed above, among so many others. Specifically, HBCUs or Historically Black Colleges or Universities are already underfunded in many ways compared to their Primarily White counterparts.

Compared to Paxson, Michael Sorrell, who is the president of HBCU Paul Quinn College, announced Thursday that he would not have students come back to campus in the fall. He believes that when handling the health and safety of other people, he is not willing to take chances. For him, it’s about safety and not betraying the “public trust.”

Whether they’ve made the decision not to open, opted for stronger liability policies, or not landed on any decisions at all, it all revolves around one concept: when a student does get sick, how well can schools handle it and how much are they willing to risk?

Photo by redcharlie on Unsplash

Because believe it or not, the broken healthcare system on college campuses is not something we can just ignore like a worn-down pair of shoes or a check engine light. We are having trouble containing pandemics in major cities and minor ones alike right now—imagine putting all the people who haven’t quite been as careful as they should or those young people who don’t have the money to spend on their health together in one place. Then, imagine handing them over to a healthcare system that cannot handle them at their best, let alone at their worst.

Wherever we go from here, I think there are more questions that need to be asked and not the ifs, but the whens that need to be considered. Think about it.

This list of colleges and their plans for the fall is updated regularly but if you have any thoughts as to these issues, add to the conversation. Whether you’re heading back to school, virtually attending, or curious about it all, speak up.

Otherwise, I will see you all next week. In the meantime, stay safe and stay informed. Happy Friday.

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