Wendy Kalman
There are many ways to see and understand

Empty nesting during a pandemic

Empty next. By Irish_Eyes, courtesy of morguefile.com

State schools differ in policy, leaving kids to figure it out on their own

This week, college kids in many places moved out of their safe homes and returned to school. Our household alone has three young students at three different state schools in Georgia (University of Georgia, Georgia Tech and Georgia State University) and I myself attend a fourth state school (Kennesaw State University) part time. Normally, I would be happy to see the boys continue in their studies, but these are not normal times.

None of our kids live on campus and while the state system is now requiring masks be worn on campuses, given so many classes have shifted online, the amount of time they will be at their schools will be reduced. For me, one of my two classes this semester will be in person.

There are parents who prefer that their kids are off campus. I am not one of them.

All three of our boys are in frats and none of them live alone. For that reason, I think I am more concerned about time spent off campus than on. One lives in a frat house, one in an apartment with two other flat-mates and one in a house with three fellow frat brothers; while not a frat house, it is the center of their fraternity’s activities.

This son has been named his frat’s risk manager and COVID-19 chair. This means he will try to implement precautions for frat activities. But where will he get guidance from?

Our UGA student said the school’s Intra-Fraternity Council was coming up with guidelines, but I couldn’t find anything on UGA’s IFC site (or on GA Tech’s IFC site or GSU’s IFC’s page). More encouragingly, KSU’s Greek life site specifically says that the school is partnering with organizations to create customized plans. The North American IFC has something, but its advice to work with “stakeholders to develop and communicate their COVID-19 prevention and response plans” is what some in the work world call “high level” and I call meaninglessly vague and broad. I can only hope that somewhere, some frats are formulating specific guidelines on how to proceed this fall, and we are just not seeing it online.

I’ve not studied in depth what each school is doing, but I have taken a look (and link to each school’s hub below). What I’ve seen points to the fact that policies vary greatly. In order from the school in which I have the most confidence to the one where I have the least:

Our GA Tech student had to get tested before moving in to his frat house; this swab test was a schoolwide requirement. GA Tech is also launching a program aimed at testing up to 1500 students, staff and faculty a day. They want asymptomatic students to be saliva-tested weekly so that they can closely monitor when and where outbreaks occur. (I do not know if they are using the test that Yale developed or something else, but this kind of test can certainly speed things up.)  There are heat sensors being placed at the entrances to buildings. And the school is supplying kids with masks; I’ve also heard but could not find on their site that they are also providing sanitizer and a gadget for opening doors. To be honest, I am most impressed with this school’s thorough approach. This is what GA Tech is doing.

Our UGA student received a package in the mail with two masks and a thermometer. His apartment building had the kids move in according to timed entry in order to reduce the number of people going in and out. And the school is conducting COVID-19 testing on campus to focus on asymptomatic carriers. This is what UGA is doing.

Close if not tied to UGA, is KSU, where I go. The school is mailing each student a mask, though I haven’t gotten mine yet. They have created new outdoor spaces for students on campus. And they are providing all students, faculty and staff with tests, for those who either experience symptoms or believe they may have been in contact with someone who was confirmed. This is where KSU’s information can be found.

On the face of it, GSU is doing the least to protect its students. The school is now providing students as well as faculty and staff with masks, pickup only. They will test only those who are symptomatic. And it wasn’t easy to find any information on their website. News about coronavirus is highlighted more than what the plan is. Here is where GSU notes its resources.

There is a plethora of articles on if and why parents should worry about their kids going back to college. And with good cause. In our case, these young students will have to sit down with their housemates and come up with their own rules. I would’ve much preferred to see schools or organizations providing them with specific guidelines and checklists.

Will they feel comfortable in leading the way if it has not already been discussed?

Being at an age which may make it difficult to want to buck trends and having to navigate frat, academic and social lives can’t be an easy task. We are confident that our kids know it is important to be safe, but we can also be concerned about complacency. Kids, even more than adults, might succumb to the “it won’t happen to me” mindset.

While our sons were home, we emphasized the importance of taking preventative steps to ensure safety. We discussed how unpredictable the virus could be – that it affects people differently and that unknowing carriers can wreak havoc on entire families. I would like to believe that each child has gone back to school with a good sense of precaution. But we simply cannot rely on that.

So here we are, in an empty nest, hoping our college students and their professors say safe. Hope is not a strategy…and because of that, this is one mama bird who would prefer her empty nest be full.

Note: GSU’s info was updated to note that the school is now giving masks to students as well, per its Facebook page.  

About the Author
Born in Brooklyn and raised on Lawn Guyland, Wendy lived in Jerusalem for over a decade submerged in Israeli culture; she has been soaked in Southern life in metro Atlanta since returning to the U.S. in 2003. Recently remarried, this Ashkenazi mom and MIL to three Mizrahi sons and a DIL in their 20s splits her time between managing knowledge in corporate America, pursuing a dual masters in public administration and integrated global communications, relentlessly Facebooking, enjoying the arts and trying to bring a wider perspective to the topics she covers while blogging.
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