Students began returning to Seton Hall’s campus in South Orange last month, leading to concerns over the health and safety of the local community.
The Setonian reported earlier this month that Seton Hall and the Village of South Orange provided differing accounts of the restart planning process, with Village officials saying they were not consulted as the school’s protocols were developed.
Scott Egelberg, the South Orange Office of Emergency Management (OEM) Coordinator, said that there was no record of the restart plan being sent to them by the University despite a Seton Hall spokesperson saying that the restart plan was sent to a South Orange health official.
“The University touts that they created a committee of over 140 administrators, faculty, students and public health experts, however not one single member of South Orange’s government was invited to participate,” Egelberg told The Setonian earlier this month. “None of our elected officials. None of our health department staff. None of our OEM or public safety staff. Nobody affiliated with South Orange participated in this Restart Plan.”
South Orange residents have expressed differing views about Seton Hall resuming in-person classes.
Julie Doran, the executive director of South Orange Village Center Alliance (a nonprofit that supports businesses in downtown South Orange), said local businesses had a positive outlook regarding the return of students along with the rest of the Seton Hall community.
“The businesses are thrilled to have SHU students, faculty and families return to South Orange,” Doran said. “We appreciate the cooperation everyone has shown to keep all residents and members of the SHU community safe.”
Catherine Fisher, the owner of Sadie’s, a boutique in South Orange, said she was never informed about the students’ return by South Orange Village or Seton Hall officials. “I was barely aware they were back,” Fisher said. “I have seen a few students and recently had one apply for a job, but it isn’t like previous years where you felt a drastic change in the downtown with student presence. Until someone applied, I wasn’t sure Seton Hall was going back to in-person classes.”
Fisher added, “I feel like colleges like Syracuse did a good job of making a detailed plan and informing the town they are in the plan. It did not seem like Seton Hall gave much information to the community about their reopening plan.”
Although Fisher said the news of college students around the nation contracting COVID-19 was “worrying” to her, she thinks that the South Orange community would not be affected as much as the students on campus.
“I wouldn’t say I feel the students are more likely to spread it to the community, but it seems in other colleges they are spreading it among themselves rapidly,” she said.
South Orange resident Valerie Corbin said she was not aware students were coming back to in-person classes until students returned to her neighborhood off campus.
“I don’t believe that in-person classes are necessary in order to ensure that students’ parents and grandparents are safe,” Corbin said. “In-person classes don’t need to occur.”
She also said she believes there was not proper communication between the University and local officials to relay the information to locals.
“Seton Hall is a private organization that does not have to be swayed by the government,” Corbin said. “They don’t have to take any type of input. I think [not communicating with the Village] was a poor decision on Seton Hall as an organization.”
Corbin said she witnessed students taking walks and runs outside of campus without masks and fears that students may spread COVID-19 to the community.
“Watching the student’s behavior, it is concerning when you live in proximity to the University,” Corbin said. “There are people who could come from Louisiana, Texas, Georgia, New York and who knows? Coming out a couple [of] blocks may not seem dangerous to them, but as individuals in the community we do not know what’s going on inside of the gates.”
Corbin also said she worries that college students will struggle with a year of social distancing.
“Not everyone is taking all the precautions because it is a hard thing to do when you are young,” Corbin said. “If students can remain diligent wearing masks and not partying and be okay with not being social for one year, if you have family members when you return home, you only are keeping them safer.”Amanda Dejesus can be reached at email@example.com.