As Meredith College’s fall semester begins, the school’s policies regarding COVID-19 for the 2021-2022 school year are being scrutinized by concerned students. One policy prohibits students from eating or drinking in class. This guideline, differing from policies set in place during the 2020-2021 school year, restricts students from using a straw under their mask to drink water while in class. While the College’s Community Standards discourage eating or drinking while indoors, they do not directly say that students are prohibited from drinking water in class by using a straw under their mask.
From an administrative perspective, Senior Vice President and Provost Dr. Matthew Poslusny responded to a few questions regarding the new COVID-19 guidelines concerning food and drink in the classroom. When asked why students are unable to drink from a straw under their mask this year when they were able to in the 2020-2021 school year, Dr. Poslusny stated, “Last year, students were seated six feet apart, the majority of our classes were either online or hybrid. This year, in order to have more classes on campus…we made the decision to go to three feet seating. In order for this to be successful, it is critical that masks be worn correctly. That means no gaps. When one drinks through a straw, even for the briefest of moments, that creates a gap which allows for the transmission of the virus.”
Dr. Poslusny also offered insight into why students are allowed to eat and drink in buildings such as the Cate Center and Belk Dining Hall. “There are a number of differences between a classroom space and a space like the dining hall,” he said. “These factors include the size of spaces and the ability for an individual to choose whether to eat inside the facility.” He also went on to state that administration had “consulted with the Director of [the] Health Center and also with the Assistant Director of Disability Services so that we could put into place a procedure that would protect the health of our entire population while taking into account the needs of individuals. Disability Services has been in touch with students that have accommodations to eat in class, and they have made alternative arrangements as needed.”
In his final statement, Dr. Poslusny wanted to remind everyone “that the requirement has been put into place to keep people safe and that it really extends to all public indoor spaces where food is not routinely served.”
Hannah Taib, ‘22, a student athlete on the field hockey team, said that she agreed with some of her teammates that having to step out of class in order to drink water puts them at a disadvantage. Taib said, “People tend to forget that we are still students—education always comes first in order to keep playing for Meredith College.” She explained that this policy negatively impacts her and her teammates because as “student-athlete[s] in Division III, [we] do not get to slack in [our] classes.” Taib and her teammates, like Kate Erb, ‘24, don’t want to miss important information to remain hydrated. Erb said she now struggles with “headaches and fatigue [that] make it difficult to concentrate” as a result of a lack of hydration and the heat.
Looking after the Meredith students is at the heart of all decisions made by Meredith staff, but some students believe the new guidelines about drinking water during class are not the best way to keep Meredith students safe.
By Maggie Barnhill, Staff Writer, and Shae-Lynn Henderson, Contributing Writer