Does exploring Northfield jeopardize our semester?

Sept. 3, a momentous day for Oles on campus this semester—the day where restrictions were loosened and in-person or hybrid classes commenced. However, perhaps the most significant opportunity for students is the ability to now leave campus. But is leaving campus worth the potential consequences, and is it an ethical act?

St. Olaf College has done a stupendous job of tackling the pandemic compared to the majority of other college campuses. We were tested twice, had limited contact with others on campus and mask-wearing and social distancing have been strictly enforced. Because of these precautions set in place, our COVID-19 cases have been controlled so far, allowing many students to feel safer. However, now that students are able to leave campus, the bubble has popped. Every time someone leaves, there is an increased risk of introducing new COVID-19 cases to our campus.

Soon, both Oles and Carls will have access and a presence in downtown Northfield, putting both colleges at risk of transferring the virus to each other and the Northfield community. It is extremely important to wear a mask in public and maintain social distancing as much as possible when leaving campus. It is unfair to the people of Northfield if students transfer the virus to their community. The failure to follow social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines in Northfield is an unethical act due to the willful ignorance and potential harm brought to the community.

If you do choose to leave campus, take considerable measures to protect yourself and others. Want to get lunch at Hogan Brothers? Grab it to go and eat outside at a picnic rather than indoors. Want to go to Target? Make a shopping list to limit the time spent in the store. Restrictions can seem demanding, but they can allow students to stay on campus for the entire semester. Following restrictions and safety guidelines on and off campus does not mean it is impossible to have a good semester. Instead, you can find ways to safely connect with the community around you.

Ignoring the virus and failing to comply with recommended restrictions that subdue COVID-19 poses the chance we will be sent home before the end of the semester. In the end it is a choice that each individual makes every day. The majority of students have followed restrictions seriously and have made sacrifices in order to keep themselves and others safe. 

As President David Anderson ’74 said in an email sent out to students this week, “We don’t want the hard work we have all put in together to be undone in the coming days and weeks.” As a St. Olaf community, we should be committed to keeping the campus safe during the time of the pandemic as a top priority.

Ainsley is from Charlotte, NC.