Graphic of the COVID cases at U.S. Colleges and Universities. Large activities and traditions were canceled during the fall semester due to the pandemic. HANYA GAO/THE STATESMAN

Anya Marquardt is a sophomore English major with a minor in journalism. 

Close to 1,000 colleges and universities across the United States made the decision to allow their students to return to campus for the Fall 2020 semester. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, changes were made to the traditional college setting, with many large lectures being switched to online courses, and large activities and traditions canceled. Universities have put emphasis on safety guidelines for students to follow in order to prevent an outbreak on campus — but unfortunately, this has not gone well on many campuses in the United States. Many academic institutions across the country have reported outbreaks of COVID-19 on their campuses, with many of them being attributed to a common occurrence: parties

These parties need to stop to allow students to safely remain on campus. While many returning students and incoming freshmen look forward to parties and associate them with the typical college experience, they are actually hindering any sort of college experience by increasing the spread of the coronavirus. Parties have been proven to be a “breeding ground” for the novel coronavirus. 

The lack of social distancing and mask-wearing has increased the number of cases on college campuses. The University of Notre Dame was forced to cancel in-person classes for two weeks after over 600 students contracted COVID-19. Contact tracing done by the university confirmed that most of the infections stemmed from off-campus gatherings. The University of Tennessee reported a cluster of COVID-19 cases after the occurrence of an off-campus house party. 

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Many colleges are looking toward taking disciplinary measures, like suspension, in order to enforce their COVID-19 policies. Purdue University suspended 36 students in connection with an off-campus party, and Syracuse University suspended 23 students after hundreds of students attended a large gathering in the middle of campus, which directly violated the university’s COVID-19 policies. Universities should not hesitate to suspend students who break the rules, as these large gatherings do not just put the lives of the attendees at risk, but the lives of all of the people that the attendees come into contact with as well. 

Recently, SUNY Oneonta became the first school in the SUNY system (State University of New York) to shut down due to a rise in COVID-19 cases. Less than a week after classes began, five students and three school organizations were suspended by the university due to parties being. The students had organized parties off campus that may have led to the outbreak, or at least contributed to it. The university originally reported two confirmed cases on Aug. 25, which was the second day of classes. However, by Sept. 3, there were 507 confirmed cases on campus. In response, the campus is in the process of transitioning to online, and classes were canceled on September 4 to allow students to prepare for their exit from campus. The situation that transpired at SUNY Oneonta could easily happen on our own campus if we are not careful.

Everyone on our campus must take this pandemic seriously. It may be frustrating that there are restrictions on campus, but these are necessary. Abstaining from parties does not mean you can’t socialize with others—social distancing outdoors with friends is a safe and fun alternative. Our campus administration and the SUNY system as a whole are taking the coronavirus pandemic seriously. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced in a press conference that colleges and universities are required to suspend in-person classes for at least two weeks if there are more than 100 cases of COVID-19 on campus, or if 5% of their on-campus population becomes infected. 

According to Stony Brook University’s COVID-19 Dashboard, there are 21 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on campus as of Sept. 7. As we can see from the numerous colleges mentioned earlier, this case number can increase without difficulty, but we have the power to stop that from happening. If we follow social distancing measures along with the other implemented policies, we can stay on campus instead of having to pack up and return home, as we had to do in March.

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Students also need to realize that fulfilling their ideal college experience will not be possible if they do not make decisions that prioritize the health and safety of themselves and others. Yes, college has more to offer than academics — we meet new friends, and for those who dorm on campus, we live in an environment that is no longer controlled by our parents/guardians. It is very easy to get sucked into the college lifestyle that is filled with parties and other large gatherings, ones that we hear about from other students or see in movies and television shows. However, the times that we are experiencing now are different. To say it plainly, we can safely see our friends on campus by following social distancing rules and wearing masks. Parties are in no way essential and they are most definitely not safe. So, here is a message to all college students: Stop partying. Let’s be safe so we can stay on campus.

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