Teen Talk: An open letter from one new COVID-19-era college student
Move in day 2020

I am writing today from my new home for the next three-ish months. I’ve finally made the trek to college after all the months (it might even be fair to say years) of waiting. For those of you who are not familiar with my column, I attend SUNY New Paltz as a student of the art education program.

Move-in day was not only hot and sticky as is typical of a New York summer, but it was unquestionably bizarre. Given the new regulations implemented at universities across the nation for COVID-19 prevention, there were many freshman rituals that simply ceased to exist. Unlike a normal year, parents were not permitted to help their children bring their personal effects to their rooms. Parents were politely asked to wait patiently outside, fully equipped with their masks, to guard piles of snacks, cleaning supplies and other school paraphernalia while the students trudged through the hallways all alone.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. I have yet to see a single person walking around campus without a mask. Hand sanitizing stations are strategically placed in every entryway. People, as far I have observed, want to be safe."
Matthew Frederick '23 (Visual Arts Education)

Truth be told, I wasn’t particularly bothered by this. More than anything, I sympathized for my parents who couldn’t see me off to college. Not only is this a huge milestone for me, but also for them. And while they may be celebrating the extra breathing room in the house now that I’m gone, I’m sure there is not a small amount of grief, too, at the loss of the universal tradition of dropping off your child at college for the first time.

I’ve quickly discovered that dormitory life is just not what it used to be. Masks are required at all times except, of course, in your own room. The attitude of my peers and the residential staff is simultaneously hopeful and cautious. There pervades the hallways a collective consciousness that things may turn for the worse at any moment; as has been the case for the entirety of the COVID-19 pandemic, the uncertainty of what the future may hold weighs on the minds of the masses.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. I have yet to see a single person walking around campus without a mask. Hand sanitizing stations are strategically placed in every entryway. People, as far I have observed, want to be safe.

We are all aware of the common stereotype of the non-stop parties common at colleges. For the most part, I think people are hesitant to believe that colleges will be able to hold off COVID-19 because of irresponsibility on the part of students. I empathize with those who place little faith in the decision-making processes of college-aged students. I ask you to follow a short line of reasoning, though, for just a moment.

masked student on bike
masked student on campus
masked students in class
masked students on campus
student reading in their dorm
masked students on campus

If campuses are shut down by COVID-19 again, that means we all have to go home and live with our parents again. We students are miserable because we can’t see our friends, and let’s face it, online learning is far from optimal. Our parents are miserable because their peace and quiet has been stripped away in a violent torrent of hastily packed bags and totes.

None of us wants to live through another COVID-19 outbreak. As rational individuals, most people can recognize that practicing social distancing, frequently sanitizing and wearing masks in public lead to the prevention of so many unnecessary deaths.

And in addition, none of us are that eager to be heading back home before we have to. While you think students will be reckless (and I’m sure some will), we want to protect the people around us just the same as you. We also want to enjoy our college experience as much as possible while recognizing that to do so we must adhere to these new safety measures.

To those who are hesitant, especially in Oneonta with the return of students at Hartwick College and SUNY Oneonta, I implore you to empathize with us college students. We don’t want to contract or spread COVID-19 any more than you. Sure, call me optimistic or naive. But I ask you to please remember that we are concerned for our own safety and yours, too.

Students across the country are eager to pursue our passions as a part of a community on campus. Part of being a member of that campus community, just like a village, county or city, is exercising the responsibility required to keep each other safe so that we may all reap the benefits. I implore you to have faith in us students and have confidence that we are not all selfish partiers as the old stereotype would suggest.


Learn about the College's plan for the spring 2021 semester online. 


Portrait of student

Matthew Frederick ’23 (Visual Arts Education) is a graduate of Oneonta High School and a first-year student at SUNY New Paltz. This article first appeared in The Daily Star, Oneonta, New York, and is reprinted here with permission from the paper and Matthew Frederick.