OPINION: Harvey Mudd should solicit student input on COVID-19 policies

Drawing of the 5C map, with Harvey Mudd's campus separated from the rest
(Selena Lopez • The Student Life)

Scrawled in pink chalk on Harvey Mudd College’s West Hall last weekend, the words “DEAN MARCO BAD” stood jarringly clear. Clearly, someone wasn’t happy.

That’s because, on Friday, Sept. 24, HMC’s Interim Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Marco Valenzuela sent out an email to students detailing updates to 5C COVID-19 restrictions, including those regarding club, organization and social gatherings. Most of the information was standard, but one bullet point invited a barrage of replies: 

“CMC, Pitzer, Pomona, and Scripps will each host one 4C party this fall. In consultation with their students, Harvey Mudd will not host or permit its students to attend these events at this time.”

Mudd students weren’t too pleased, and for good reason. The new restrictions gave every other college the opportunity to host and attend consortium-wide parties except for HMC, a highly unusual exception. Especially when taking HMC’s low infection rate into account, it’s understandable that many are outraged over the policy. 

Obviously, the decision was made with Mudd students’ health and best interests in mind. However, regardless of the tangible benefits of the policy, transparency and student input were sorely lacking in the decision-making process. Specifically, Valenzuela explained that students were consulted in the email — a claim that many in the email chain disputed. 

Although the administration clarified that they did consult the Student COVID Advisory Board (SCAB) — a board of Mudd students intended to represent the student body — a policy as impactful and counterintuitive as this one should undergo review by the entire student population. Of course, not every decision should and can be made this way: Representatives are elected to make policy-making easier and more streamlined, since a collective vote isn’t feasible every time an organization needs to make changes. 

However, certain situations call for exceptions, and this is one of them. If students feel as if their opinions or interests aren’t being represented in policy, this may incentivize them to break the rules, violating the Honor Code, the pledge that forms the basis of much of HMC’s culture. Because of the trust in the Honor Code, students are often given take-home tests and can leave their valuables around without worry. These benefits generate widespread compliance with the code — but if seemingly unreasonable policies are added within it, students may begin to lose trust in it. 

A lengthy email chain and more than a few angry students later, the administration and the Associated Students of Harvey Mudd College (ASHMC) took action. They published the members of SCAB on the ASHMC website, made meeting minutes publicly available and most notably sent out a Google form allowing Mudd students to rank their comfort with various social situations in the context of COVID-19. Supposedly, the responses to the form will be factored into the leadership’s future decisions regarding pandemic restrictions, in an attempt to gather more student input and respond to transparency concerns.

These efforts are laudable; in a society where it’s often difficult and futile to demand change from a governing body, such a quick response time shows that leadership is open to criticism and suggestions. Mudd students should take full advantage of this quality, and not be afraid to speak up when things aren’t right. If a few emails back to an admin can generate momentum and change, go for it.

At the same time, speaking up shouldn’t warrant the use of unnecessary hostility. For example, I wouldn’t condone the chalk on the West wall. First, it likely wasn’t Valenzuela’s personal decision, and even if it was, he was just looking to protect student health. Rather, instead of imagining it as a conflict between two sides, Mudd students and leadership should see it as a collaborative effort, with either side offering constructive criticism to improve. It’s a different story if compromise never happens, but until then, let’s better HMC together. 

Serena Mao HM ’25 is from Fremont, California. She finds listening to school drama entertaining, but if it’s about something important, she might also write about it. 

 

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