April 18, 2021

KEMPFF | Save the Campus Tour

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In the long line of people who were robbed by COVID-19, a group that sticks out are today’s high school seniors. Many are losing major experiences like prom and high school graduation. However, they receive only a fraction of the attention and respect that was paid to the class of 2020.

So, when reading the recent Sun piece on unofficial visits, I was frustrated by the lack of sympathy in the article. Instead, I feel for these kids and want to give them this experience, especially since they have been robbed of so many. 

I’m an older sibling and watching my sister, a high school junior, explore college opportunities has been extremely painful. When I accompanied my older brother on an East Coast college visit after my freshman year in high school, I was excited about the trip. It was a long haul, zig-zagging across states and hearing one tour guide after another. 

Now, however, I desperately want my sister (and all other prospective college students) to have the same experience that I did. Although Cornell has done a great  job providing online resources to these students, it doesn’t compare. Few things replace the awe-inspiring site of Fall Creek gorge or the first-hand beauty of the Arts Quad. Seeing a place like Statler Hall online is a far cry from the living, beating heart that makes Cornell wonderful. 

College admission statistics have painted a bleak story for this upcoming year, and it’s not hard to guess why. Why wouldn’t  a prospect first-year be less motivated by the prospect of a virtual college visit? The pressures of their present life seem  more real than a far-away university dream. Concerns with jobs and family, made more dire by the pandemic, are more pressing  than monotonous  zoom classes that might offer a slim chance at preparing them for college. 

At the same time, Ivy League Education has become even more unattainable. Admission rates have plummeted at leading colleges and universities, including Cornell. This further discourages prospective students, already battered by a difficult year. And, if  accepted, you have the privilege of not even seeing the campus until you fork over nearly $80,000 a year to attend. 

 Here on campus, life for me has more or less returned to normal. I’m living here on campus and attend multiple classes in person. I can practice sports, eat at Terrace, and do all the normal things that I would have done in prior years. 

Unfortunately, most school systems were not able to launch an impressive surveillance system such as Cornell’s. Our testing and quarantine system was unique, allowing us opportunities that few students had. In comparison, the botched COVID management nationwide has left this new class of first-years well behind their older peers both academically and socially. 

Frustration at these students is the furthest thing from my mind. Instead, one thing comes up: How can we help them?

Cornell has done a remarkable job of handling the vaccination process and campus numbers are reaching impressive standards. At the same time, New York State has started to relax many travel restrictions in recognition of  increased vaccinations and decreased risk surrounding COVID – 19. .

Yet, Cornell has remained extremely strict with its visitor and travel rules. I felt the difficulty of requesting approval to travel from the university first hand.

The answer right now is not to shame these prospective students. Instead, it’s to find a new way to safely provide campus tours without jeopardizing what we have worked so hard to build. 

There are many ways to safely update the process and revamp those college tours that meant so much to me. Cornell hasn’t been the only school grappling with this issue, and many others have begun to construct a road map.

One asset that Cornell can exploit here is its size. Unlike another New York State Ivy, Cornell has a large and bustling  campus. The outdoors provide a safer alternative to group gatherings rather than the indoors. And after a brutal winter, the weather has turned to the brightside. 

Here’s the proposal: Adjust the visitor guidelines to permit single-day, controlled campus tours. Visitors would be expected to submit negative COVID tests prior to arriving on campus, in addition to closely following state rules and other COVID regulations. This would require an update to the behavioral compact to admit these closely monitored visitors. We may even require an on campus test to control any possible exposure. 

Instead of allowing these visitors to roam free, we provide them with the resources and education so they can respectfully follow campus rules.The tours would remain outdoors, masked, socially distanced, and small group-oriented. 

There are a few moments on my campus tour that stood out, and one is looking at Risley Hall. Its size and beauty captivated me, and I remember thinking at that moment that I wanted to go to school here. The in-person tour is an achievable goal that, if done safely, would bring some normalcy to these students.

So, I think we shouldn’t get mad at the students; instead, let’s show some grace.  But, more importantly, let’s encourage Cornell to explore the possibility of changing its policies to include the invaluable campus tour.

Brendan Kempff is a sophomore in the School of Hotel Administration. He can be reached at bpk43@cornell.edu. Slope Side runs every other Monday this semester.