No, College Kids Aren’t All Reckless or Selfish

There’s no denying that the new spike in COVID-19 cases we are seeing is driven by “younger Americans.” Some states are re-closing bars and restaurants, or pausing other reopening measures. Dr. Anthony Fauci might have put it best when he told a Senate committee, “Bars: really not good, really not good.” But people are seeing the word “younger” and misreading it as “college kids.” 

At best, that doesn’t tell the whole story. At worse, it’s an unfair indictment. Early in the pandemic, people mocked spring breakers on Florida beaches and a Penn State professor recently took to Esquire to complain about the idea of in-person classes in the fall because, “students being students will do what students have always done: congregate in packs, drink heavily, and comingle.” But cases are rising not just among Gen Z but also Americans in their 30s and 40s.

As a professor who has had the pleasure of working with thousands of students over the past decade, these denouncements are inappropriately critical of this new generation coming of age into the world. 

While it is absolutely true that professors and members of the higher education community should worry about school campuses reopening because traditional teaching and social distancing will be truly impossible and due to the inevitability that some students will make foolish decisions which could spread coronavirus, the fact of the matter is that our Gen Z students are well aware of the dangers of COVID-19 and are not looking to engage in dangerous behaviors. 

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