A Thanksgiving Reckoning: Higher Ed Grapples With the Pandemic’s Second Wave

In the United States, Thanksgiving is normally a welcome holiday to spend time with family and friends; however, this year it carries a sense of dread. Universities were proactively requiring students to take COVID-19 tests before leaving campus for the holiday, often with student unions as testing and collection sites. Governors from states across the country have asked colleges and universities to provide testing for all students traveling home for Thanksgiving break before they leave campus. 

In a joint statement last week, governors from seven New England states asked that any student who tests positive be encouraged to isolate on campus before they can travel or detail arrangements of their safe travel home with the local department of health. 

Also last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention specifically cited college students in an advisory warning against holiday travel, noting that the safest way to recognize Thanksgiving was “at home with the people you live with. People who do not currently live in your housing unit, such as college students who are returning home from school for the holidays, should be considered part of different households.” 

Some of the colleges either urging or requiring student testing include the University of WisconsinDuke UniversitySUNYTexas A&M, and the University of Oregon and Oregon State University. At Florida Gulf Coast University students were dropping off completed saliva tests in a collection container in the Cohen Student Union and receiving take-home test kits to use before returning to campus. At the University of Maryland–College Park, students leaving for the holiday were told not to return for the remainder of the semester and Stamp Student Union would scale back services beginning November 25. 

Even with all the precautions, the rest of the semester has been thrown into uncertainty. Schools are issuing their own guidelines, with schools such as Boston University, the University of South Dakota, and Florida State University also actively asking students to stay home after Thanksgiving. An NBC News article looked into how universities and students are reacting to the everchanging guidelines, with many students and school administrators unsure of how to proceed in the coming weeks. 

On the most extreme end, many schools have gone or plan to go completely remote for the rest of the semester. The list of online-only schools grows by the day: the University of Nevada–Las Vegas, Florida schools including the University of Miami, Florida State University, and the University of South Floridathe University of Pennsylvania, the University of Arizona, the University of Michigan, and even more

Florida Gulf Coast sends Covid-19 test kits home with students | Photo provided by Florida Gulf Coast

“The final eight days of instruction, as well as final exams and assessments, will all be delivered in online or other remote modes to allow students to remain at home until the start of the Spring semester if they choose to do so, thus reducing travel and in-person interactions,” said the University of Arizona in an announcement

Even with potentially several promising vaccines on the way, higher education is collectively doing its part to keep administration, faculty, staff, and students safe, and student centers like Perkins Student Center at the University of Delaware and at Kent State University were serving as testing sites days before the holiday week. 


  • Steve Chaplin

    Steve Chaplin is managing editor of ACUI’s The Bulletin and manager of the ACUI College Union and Student Activities (CUSA) Evaluation Program. A former newspaper writer, editor, and manager, he has volunteered as a student mentor as a member of the National Association of Science Writers, and received awards for his writing and reporting from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, the Kentucky Education Association, and the Kentucky Press Association.

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