With deadline looming, MSU students debate returning to campus amid COVID

Addy Stuever Battel will be a third-generation Spartan, and she’s not letting a little thing like a global pandemic stop her. (Courtesy photo)

Addy Stuever Battel’s grandparents went to Michigan State University. So did her parents. She has cousins there. When she was born, she was wearing a green-and-white Spartan onesie before she left the hospital.

She’s been regaled with stories about experiences her family has had at Michigan State for years. So receiving a letter from MSU encouraging her to stay on her Cass City farm in Michigan’s Thumb rather than come to East Lansing for her freshman year was, understandably, unsettling.

With COVID cases rising in Michigan and growing concerns about the potentially deadly virus spreading at student parties and local bars, MSU sent emails to students and parents Monday urging students to consider taking classes online from their homes for the fall semester.

Most classes will be online at MSU. Nine out of 10 freshmen will have all classes online; 84 percent of sophomores will also, as will 80 percent of juniors and 73 percent of seniors and fifth-year students.

The letter made a specific pitch to incoming freshmen like Stuever Battel, saying that the vast majority of them would have no in-person classes, and giving them until Wednesday to back out of their residence hall contracts.

Speaking to Bridge by phone while trimming a goat in the barn Tuesday, Stuever Battel said she was struggling to make a decision.

“I just wish someone would tell me what to do,” the 18-year-old said. “It would relieve a lot of stress.”

Each year, more than 60,000 Michigan high school graduates walk onto college campuses in the fall. No freshman class in a century, though, has had to start their higher education career amid a global pandemic. While most Michigan colleges and universities are welcoming back students in September, campus life will look less like “Animal House” and more like “Contagion.” Many schools will require face masks on campus. Desks are being moved to allow for social distancing. Cafeterias will limit seating.

But until Monday, no Michigan public university had gone as far as to encourage students to stay home rather than return to campus.

“If you can live safely and study successfully at home, we encourage you to consider that option for the fall semester,” MSU President Samuel Stanley, an infectious disease expert by training, wrote Monday. “Living away from campus may be the best choice for you and your family, particularly if you have family members at higher health risk.”

How successful the university will be at limiting the number of college students in East Lansing this fall is yet to be seen.

By the time Stuever Battel ended her call with Bridge, she’d made her decision:

“I am planning to continue to go to MSU, until I’m told it’s unsafe or that by staying home I can protect others,” she said. “I know I’m healthy and I can protect myself by wearing a mask and social-distancing.”

She’d spent the past 24 hours talking to her future roommate on Instagram, and her roommate still plans to live on campus too, she said.

“I know the experience will be different,” Stuever Battel said. “But I know I can make it new and successful. I wasn’t planning on partying anyway.”

Addy’s mother, Sue Stuever Battel, said while the letter “put more questions in her mind” about campus safety, she supports her daughter’s decision if she wants to go.

“I’m probably as confused as ever right now,” Sue Stuever Battel said. “I want her to have a great experience but I don’t want her to get sick or have her participate in spreading [the virus].

“She turned 18 yesterday,” Sue Steuver Battel said. “For me, it’s about her making her own decisions.”

Aidan Hoskow plans to move into a dorm at Michigan State University even though all his classes will be online. (Courtesy photo)

Ninety miles south of Cass City, in the Detroit suburb of Huntington Woods, Julie Hoskow said she’d been scrolling through MSU parent Facebook groups since the letter from MSU’s president arrived in her in-box. “Parents are nervous,” Hoskow said, but only a few wrote that their children were now going to stay home.

Hoskow’s son, Aidan, an incoming MSU freshman, decided he is still going to move into a Michigan State dorm rather than live at home.

“I’m not surprised by this [MSU letter] at all,” Hoskow said. “It  doesn’t change my plan for my son at all.

“Having that college experience, although being different, is important and worth the risk for us,” she said. “If there are fewer students on campus, selfishly, that’s a good thing for my son.”

Even though all his classes will be online, “he really wants to go,” said Hoskow, who is an MSU alum. “He’s always been a huge Michigan State fan.”

MSU has set up wings of dormitories for quarantines of students who test positive for the coronavirus. The school, or the state, could decide to shut colleges if infections increase in the fall as some health experts predict.

“He wants to be on the campus and have whatever kind of experience he can have, for as long as they can,” Hoskow said. “Having lost the end of his senior year, we’re trying to hold on to this. We’re trying to find hope in all this.”

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Chuck D.
Tue, 08/04/2020 - 6:49pm

We had one kid at MSU and another at UM Flint. Neither will be returning until this "online classes" nonsense is over. What a joke. There is NO replacement for in person teaching. When did we depart from colleges boasting about their student to teacher ratio, and enter this twilight zone of "online classes are ok"? Online classes are a last resort and anyone who has taken them knows they are a joke compared to the real thing.

Wed, 08/05/2020 - 11:39am

Um, you could say it happened when we were in a worldwide pandemic and our country is doing worse than any other country in the world. So I blame Trump. BTW Thanks for the news. Good to know about those available spots your children will be relinquishing. How they do something productive during their gap years! We're in the Trump depression and jobs will be scarce, low-paying. Maybe they can bring groceries to the curb for people when the ones doing that now get covid from reckless people like you who don't take the pandemic seriously. Back to the future! Eternal shutdowns because of you.

Carmen W
Tue, 08/04/2020 - 9:10pm

How awful to make these kids decide to attend in person or not in such little time. Make it online for everyone, except for extreme cases. I feel so sorry for my nephew who is forced to make this decision.

Wed, 08/05/2020 - 9:39am

Maybe tough decision for him, maybe not. Had 4 months to think about that decision. I find it odd you, or someone who has never met him, should make that decision for him.

Wed, 08/05/2020 - 11:00am

In the grand scheme of things, taking a year off between high school and college is not a big deal. Maybe it would be better if every kid had the chance to work in a box factory for a year. It will leave them hungry for an education. I appreciate how unhappy they are about things now but when they are 30, that year will be irrelevant in their lives. I worry more about the younger kids who have less resources to cope being forced to live in a less than safe or secure situation.

Wed, 08/05/2020 - 3:35pm

I appreciate what you are saying, but don't necessarily agree.

Jeremy P
Wed, 08/05/2020 - 11:51am

The students did not have four months. They have days. Don't be ignorant like these people in Arizona: https://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2020/08/03/coronavirus-mask-arizona-couple...

Our twins are now high school seniors and as a family, we will have to make these decisions together. It's a huge financial commitment with serious health concerns. We already have anxiety about what college will be like next year and high school starting this fall because of attitudes like yours and those in Arizona. Try to be a bit more understanding and think about others. Just try to imagine the anguish parents and students face when as a country there seems to be so much selfishness and disregard for others.

Wed, 08/05/2020 - 10:40pm

Yes, technically you are correct. I was implying they have had around that amount of time to think about whether they wanted to even try on campus or not this fall. It has been up in the air since students were sent home. Yes, they have been given a short time to make final decision, but to me that was obvious considering schools would be starting back up soon. What was ignorant, what attitude, and how am I not being understanding or thinking of others? Assumptions a bit offensive, but we don't know each other. Anyway, the person obviously cares about their nephew, and that's great. What if he wants nothing more than to be on campus. Maybe I miss understood. Thought she was saying she wants him to stay home. I realize since what nephew thought wasn't included I assumed she doesn't know. Maybe I shouldn't have assumed, but I did. So realize can't fault you for that as I did earlier. My bad. The point is was trying to bring up is maybe she should try to take an attitude that doesn't disregard others thoughts or feelings because that is selfish. Thinking about others and trying to be more understanding is a better attitude to have.