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Opinion: Why Whitmer shouldn't have forced colleges to close

Sarah Weaver

On Nov. 15, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer brought a new installment of lockdown orders to the people of Michigan. Whitmer closed restaurants for indoor dining, limited household gatherings, banned group fitness classes, and, in a move which for myself and many of my fellow college students was the most impactful, banned in-person instruction for both college and high school classes.

Whitmer’s order banning in-person instruction at colleges and high schools is a serious misuse of her power, and an impractical response to the pandemic. I would know. I'm a college student.

Whitmer doesn't seem to understand the importance of in-person education, Weaver writes.

At the outset of the fall semester, the college I attend stood out from among others by holding in-person classes. As our president put it, “This is what we do.” 'This' being to educate students. In a world of Zoom meetings and virtual education, knowing that my education would be an in-person, communal experience was a breath of fresh air.

Then Whitmer demanded we finish out the school year virtually.

On top of the abuse of power demonstrated by unilateral lockdown orders, Whitmer and her advisers seem not to have fully considered the implications of this action on students forced to switch to virtual classrooms.

Whitmer’s order undermines a fundamental facet of college.  College is a community. Students should be challenged and informed at an institution dedicated to their education. Through teaching from their professors and good conversation with their peers, students achieve knowledge of themselves and the world in which they live, equipping their minds for a lifelong pursuit of what is good.

This cannot be achieved in its fullest extent without in-person classroom teaching.

Anyone who has been involved in a Zoom meeting knows how much time is taken up with shaky internet, inconveniently timed automatic software updates and audio transmission issues, especially when trying to hold a class-wide conversation. Students feel unable or unwilling to participate behind the barrier of a screen. With in-person classes, the conversation flows as freely as the mental faculties of the students and professors allow. Intellectual debate thrives: Questions are posed and questions are answered.

I did my undergraduate degree online. Often, as in my case, you save both money and time. But when I decided to pursue my education in politics at a higher level, I intentionally did not sign up for years of Zoom classes. I signed up for an intellectually rigorous, interactive experience with students and faculty who would educate and challenge me face to face.

Whitmer doesn't seem to understand the importance of this to me and so many of my fellow students.

And the fact is, college-aged students, and most graduate students, are well outside of the boundaries of at-risk age groups. According to the CDC, 8 out of every 10 adults who die from COVID-19 are 65 or older. In Michigan, 90% of COVID deaths were from individuals over the age of 50. In short, young and healthy students are at a very low risk for COVID-19.

I don’t pretend to speak for every college student’s experience in writing this. In fact, some students do have conditions which would make the virus deadly were they to contract it. Some live with other individuals with similar conditions, perhaps an elderly parent or grandparent. These student’s needs should be accommodated, and most colleges would happily do so. But strong, healthy, young students should not be forced to play-act some of the most important aspects of college from behind their laptops.

Whitmer’s tyrannical and impractical order should be overturned, and she should be prevented from banning in-person classes for the spring semester. It is crucial that healthy students receive the benefits of an in-person education.

Sarah Weaver is a graduate student studying political philosophy and American government in Michigan. Find her on Twitter: @SarahHopeWeaver.