ITHACA, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Many schools across the country are shuttering their doors and moving to remote learning due to COVID-19, but Cornell University wants to keep the campus open, and a student organization is doing everything they can to make that possible.
“I think it’s really special that Cornell is able to offer in-person classes, and we all really want in-person classes to continue,” Cornell Junior Jade Ovadia said.
To try and keep the Big Red campus open during a pandemic, nearly 1,000 students, including Jade, have already joined the COVID Peer Ambassador and Consultant Program to remind students about the precautions they should be taking.
Laura Santacrose, Assistant Director of the Skorton Center for Health Initiatives at Cornell, said, “So, students could volunteer to serve as a COVID-19 peer ambassador, a COVID-19 peer consultant, or they could serve in both of these roles.”
The ambassadors have tents set up around campus and they hand out materials, like masks and hand sanitizer, as well as educate students about the guidelines they should be following. One of the items being handed out is a key fob, which allows you to open doors without actually touching them, and it comes with a stylist so you can make contactless payments at the grocery store as well.
Consultants in the student-run organization serve as a think tank and try to come up with new ideas to improve and further Cornell’s health initiatives.
“Keeping campus safe was definitely something that I knew, in some way, before this even started, that I wanted to be a part in,” Ovadia said. “I think peer-to-peer communication is one of the most effective ways to get a message out there.”
The group is not shaming people for not following the guidelines but instead focused on educating. Sometimes, all it takes for someone to listen is that little reminder.
“Most of the time you would just be like, ‘Hey, would you mind wearing a face mask,” and people would be like, ‘Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry, I totally forgot,’” Nico Modesti, a Junior and COVID-19 Ambassador at Cornell, said.
The health department at Cornell has supplied the materials for ambassadors to hand out and has educated the COVID-19 ambassadors and consultants on what they need to be telling other students. So far, the organization has seen progress around campus.
“I have seen my friends, who are some of the most stubborn people that I know, change their behaviors to follow Cornell’s norms,” Modesti said. “That is a really good sign that Cornell’s educational programs and being a peer ambassador and being a peer consultant is going well. However, there are always people on campus that will make the wrong decisions, and as we’ve seen recently, one party is now up to 25-plus cases on campus, causing a really big cluster.”
Cornell made the rules clear at the beginning of the semester with a behavior agreement that every student had to sign and an online class that every student had to take before arriving to campus. Since then, some students have been suspended for their actions and nearly 50 people have tested positive.
Modesti said, “That’s created definitely a little bit of fear on the college campus, I think. We’re trying to counteract that and just try to provide a friendly face under that mask that can talk to them and try to just explain things in like a college student’s term to them about why they should be doing this.”
Cornell is the only IVY League school that is currently having in-person classes, and Jade thinks that can continue.
“Everybody I have seen has been wearing a mask,” Ovadia said. “I think that students really want the campus to stay open, and they value the work that the Cornell community put in to open campus, and know in-person classes have a different level of intimacy and experience.”
“I’m really glad that President Pollock and the Cornell administration provided us with a really solid reopening plan,” Modesti said. “Personally, I really, really hope everything goes well and we can prove to everyone else that, ‘Hey, this is a great way to do it, and you can do this and you can have in-person classes this semester.”
Every Cornell student is tested twice a week for COVID-19, and if the campus is able to stay below Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s threshold of 100 cases, they might just be able to make it through the semester, and this student organization is a great step in the right direction.