Position: Franklin College's decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic prompt questions. But the college's commitment to student involvement in a difficult time matters.
Amid the challenges we’ve faced because of the COVID-19 pandemic, our community stays strong. Franklin College’s efforts to adapt mitigation protocols and do their best to keep extracurricular activities and athletic training open have demonstrated their commitment to student success.
Franklin College has worked to the best of their ability to keep this campus afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes constant changes to mitigation protocols and, most recently, random student-body testing after a cluster of cases emerged among student- athletes.
While no response can be perfect, The Franklin staff is conflicted by the efforts of the college to maintain our sense of community and student involvement during this difficult time. Professors and coaches acknowledge this commitment and they appreciate the efforts as their extracurriculars continue to be open for their students. However, these efforts present more risks than necessary for staff and the student body.
Casey Hayes, associate professor of fine arts, fought for choir to continue their practices. To him and his students, choir is not just another extracurricular activity but a passion they all share.
“Choir can be that important for so many students,” Hayes said. “When you take that away, you take away the chance for a student to get that sense of community.”
Hayes planned during the summer and presented an elaborate plan to keep the choir working as safely as possible for students. He has close friends with extensive experience in adjusting spaces for singing. They provided advice on the best tools the school could acquire that allowed choir to happen.
It was Hayes’ idea to get the new air handlers that are always turned on. The handlers constantly change the air and keep the room fresh and clean. They obtained multiple Plexiglass barriers to create pods around the singers and keep everyone separated. The school also provided choir with the biggest room on campus, the Branigin room, to make space for all 40 people and allow them to practice safely.
“Are we making the most beautiful music in the world? No, we can’t. Not behind masks and not doing things safely. But we are singing, and they are sounding lovely and we are maintaining a sense of community,” Hayes said.
These are the kind of examples to follow when we continue extracurriculars while also maintaining students’ safety. The extensive protocols Hayes makes his students follow include how many students can enter the Branigin room at a time and makes sure they are clear of any symptoms before entering the room.
Hayes makes sure all of his students follow specific rules, and the area to be sanitized twice a day. He’s happy with Franklin College committing to allow choir to continue. Hayes said Franklin College knows the importance of this activity for students.
Similar to choir, Nick Crisafulli, assistant professor of fine arts and theatre director, has continued to lead productions for the theatre department.
“We definitely feel the impact of it, it has been present in our rehearsals and in our performances in terms of people being quarantined and people having to be gone. We are not immune,” Crisafulli said.
Although a lot of things have changed, such as not having a live performance like in prior years, Crisafulli teamed up with the Pulliam School of Journalism to stream a radio show on Facebook Live in October. The actors remained six feet apart and they all wore masks.
During the live video, the audience saw that the students were following protocols while actively participating in their activities. Crisafulli made clear that any close contact activities were taken away for the sake of safety.
“It’s obviously one of those things that we all have to figure how to keep doing it and if we can’t figure it out, we’ll just have to wait,” Crisafulli said.
Sophomore Marian Case has done theatre since elementary school and loves the meaning of it as becoming someone else. She’s thankful to continue theatre activities even with mitigation protocols and the challenges that bring with it.
“Nick and the other theater professors are really good about following [protocols] and enforcing them,” Case said.
Although athletics are separated from the rest of campus activities and treated as their own department, they also share the same gratitude as most of the other extracurriculars. And on a campus where more than half of students are athletes, this is a meaningful development in a challenging time.
But, this department is the one that brings the most conflict, not only within our staff's discussion, but with the rest of the student body.
The constant body-to-body proximity or close training, makes them more susceptible to spreading the virus. While we cannot avoid cases altogether, it would be best to minimize these activities and the results, such as fewer cases on campus, could be more promising.
Andrew Hendricks, director of athletics, said that continuing practices are a very important aspect for his athletes. As he said, it’s a responsibility the department has to them because we are providing students with an experience they were seeking.
“They came here to be members of their teams; they all want to play. Our job is to give them an experience that they want to have but we need to do it in a safe way,” Hendricks said.
The athletic department is guided by mitigation protocols not only from Franklin College, but also from health officials and the NCAA. Hendricks said there are several layers of security for students as they practice during the pandemic.
Instead of fully canceling practices, each sport has worked to maintain a level of safety and order while providing its athletes the practice they need to become ready once games start again.
“It would be irresponsible of us to expect players to show up and start to compete, having had no conditioning,” Hendricks said.
We understand the need of maintaining their fitness, but as we are seeing the COVID-19 cases rise, there shouldn’t be practices for the rest of the academic semester. It is con icting to understand the need of practice, given that half of the student body are athletes, but is it worth putting our already small school at risk?
Indiana faces fluctuating results every week, but looking at the big picture, cases are rising. Athletes such as football, basketball and soccer, are the one among the highest risk for closeness while practicing.
Athletes follow the social distancing, masking, and disinfection protocols. They will also now complete consistent COVID-19 testing to ensure the safety of every sport. But this is an approach that should’ve been done since the first week of school. Rather than testing the highest risk sport every now and then, those are the first one to be the most cautious of.
"I think we are trying to do that the best way we can, knowing that we have an education and experience that we must deliver," Hendricks said.
Brian Lebowitz, assistant director of athletics and head men’s basketball coach, agrees with allowing athletes to continue practice as long as it’s done safely. For his athletes, basketball is a way to benefit them academically, socially and professionally.
“We can’t remove 100% of the contact or things like that, but we can manage it in such a way that we can have a really successful season. We can keep guys healthy and give them a really good college basketball experience,” Lebowitz said.
Athletics are important for a student life, even more if they chose this school because of their sport. However, the decision to continue upcoming season seems reckless, as President Kerry Prather said at the beginning of school year, tests can be fallible. So how can our school trust the testing of our students and the students from competing teams.
Every person we spoke to said the same thing: We appreciate Franklin College’s efforts for getting students back to campus, despite the real and persistent challenges of the pandemic. But are we really safe?
The school and students know there’s still a long way to go, but we are working and adapting as well as we can.