Sherrill Harbison: Bringing students back to UMass a danger

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Fifteen thousand more students in town? This is irresponsible and dangerous, a threat to all of us.

Undergraduates are children, in both a developmental and social sense. Human brain development is not complete until about 25 years of age. The last four areas to reach maturity are insight, empathy, impulse control and executive function.

We see this around us all the time, in every university community. Good intentions of kind-hearted young people are defeated by these handicaps, plus alcohol. Half of the returning population will live in our town neighborhoods — including four houses surrounding me, where loud parties are a constant nuisance.

I am one of many people over 60, also with a compromised immune system, and the students living off campus will have no administrative oversight. They will be on the streets and in the stores and on the buses. Their errors in judgment will overwhelm our public health capacity, as every state with rising case numbers in this age-range shows.

No one is unaware of the financial crisis this virus presents to colleges and universities, and no one wants it to get worse, but we are nowhere near able to do what is necessary to reverse the path of the virus. Inviting it to spread on our campuses will guarantee the end of our higher education system as we have known it.

Living with this virus is very painful, for faculty, staff, students, parents, neighbors, and businesses. Pretending that imported teenagers will make it better is madness.

Sherrill Harbison


The writer is director of Scandinavian Studies, Emerita, at UMass Amherst.