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Survey illuminates shifting student opinions on Covid policy

October 14, 2022

College policy surrounding its Covid-19 pandemic management has shifted dramatically over the past several months. In his August 3 email to the Bowdoin community, President Rose announced the outright discontinuation of many of the College’s previous Covid policies, including masking requirements in classrooms and mandatory, twice-weekly PCR testing.

In a survey sent by the Bowdoin Orient to the entire student body, respondents reflected on the College’s current Covid policies and their ability to successfully confront the challenges posed by the pandemic at this juncture.

The majority—78 percent—of survey respondents think Bowdoin is handling the Covid-19 health crisis well or very well. This is a slight increase from the 73 percent of respondents who thought this last semester. However, a divide is evident between students who are satisfied with the College’s loosening of restrictions and those who feel the College should do more to protect the health of the community.

Sixty six percent of respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement, “Bowdoin should do everything in its power to keep cases low, including rigorous restrictions and isolation housing, as in previous semesters.” However, a portion of respondents still believe that restrictions and other precautionary measures are necessary in protecting student-health.

“I feel like Bowdoin has really dropped the ball this semester, Covid-wise. If we’ve learned anything from the past two years, it’s that vaccination (including boosting) plus masking and/or regular testing is most effective for keeping Covid-19 cases low,” a student from the Class of 2024 wrote. “They’re doing the vaccination part, but have seemingly given up on the rest of it, putting at-risk students, faculty and staff at even higher risk by letting the virus spread.”

While many of the previous restrictions Bowdoin imposed last year are not as popular among the student body, many students still believe that vaccination is critical. Seventy two percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “Bowdoin should reinstate its vaccine and booster mandate as a necessary step for our community’s health.” However, 56 percent of respondents either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement, “Bowdoin should reinstate surveillance testing.”

Further, only 47 percent of the student body reported having two rapid at-home Covid tests ready for when the College is not offering testing—which occurs at night and on weekends. In the August 3 email, Rose recommended that each student have at least two rapid antigen test kits readily available.

Forty seven percent of respondents said that they have tests to use when the College does not provide them, for example, on weekends or at night.

Some students also feel strongly about Bowdoin’s cessation of the Covid dashboard. Last year, Bowdoin updated the community on the amount of active cases weekly but stopped doing so at the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year.

“I strongly wish [Bowdoin] continued to publish the Covid dashboard,” a student from the Class of 2024 wrote. “Many of my friends (and myself) want to know how many people on campus have Covid so we can make more informed decisions about masking and attending large gatherings. If Bowdoin is worried about publishing medical data (even though it’s anonymous and they’ve done it in years past), it would still be very helpful to at least have community members volunteer to anonymously share that they have tested positive.”

“It’s weird not knowing how prevalent Covid is on campus, because there is no official count/number of positive cases that is published to the community, so it’s hard to gauge how cautious to be,” another student in the Class of 2022 or earlier reported.

Of the survey respondents, 74 percent said they have tested positive for Covid at some point during the last two years, with 16 percent having tested positive multiple times.

When asked about how Bowdoin’s pandemic response has affected their academic experience, 61 percent of respondents agreed with the statement that “Bowdoin’s Covid approach is conducive to my learning environment.” However, some students feel strongly that more can be done to support students with Covid academically.

“The academic accommodations for students with Covid are extremely lacking, since the school is not allowing professors to Zoom their classes,” a student from the Class of 2025 wrote. “With the brain fog and feeling sick and everything else, the last thing I wanted was to be rapidly getting behind in my classes and labs. Missing lectures was especially tough.”

Despite overall trends suggesting the waning of Covid-related anxieties, many students continue to seek more guidance as the pandemic rages on.

“For students who test positive, Bowdoin should continue to provide adequate academic and residential support. Right now, Bowdoin students who test positive or who are close contacts are given very few instructions about how to attend class, whether classes will [be] recorded, where to stay if roommates are negative, and other key details.”

Methodology and Fact Sheet

The survey was not weighted as most demographic trends follow the expected demographics reported by the College, such as gender identity and financial aid. About 67 percent of respondents identified as white, 17 percent as Asian, 3 percent as Black/African American and 7 percent as Hispanic, which does not reflect the College’s official report. However, the demographic discrepancy was not significant enough to warrant adjustment for selection bias.

The Bowdoin Orient Fall 2022 Covid survey elicited responses from 340 students at Bowdoin College. To limit “ballot stuffing,” or the action of filling out the survey more than once, measures were taken to limit the amount of responses that could be submitted from a single IP address to one. Further, the Orient did not collect personal data of respondents outside of their IP address and the time they began and completed the survey. In the published data, which can be found on this article’s webpage, we have removed the IP addresses and will not be disseminating those responses in accordance with our own policies on ethics, polling and anonymity of respondents.

The Orient recognizes that there was no way to prevent a member from outside the Bowdoin community from filling out this survey. However, it is assumed this did not happen as the only method of filling out the survey was through an anonymous link emailed only to the class lists.

More information about the method of distributing, the Orient’s decision not to weight the poll, the questions asked, the data available to the public, the purpose of the poll and how to inquire about the data or the Orient’s decisions can be found on this article’s webpage in the Fact Sheet for this poll.

Janet Briggs, Andrew Cohen, Charles Jiang, Emma Kilbride, Shihab Moral and Seamus Frey contributed to this report.


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