Student-led coalition demands improvements in university’s COVID-19 protocols, plans “die-in” protest on campus

Alton Northup, Reporter

KSU Safety Coalition poster
Students began the COVID Safety Coalition with the goal of creating “a safer Kent State experience, according to the group’s Instagram. The coalition launched a Change.org petition with a list of demands for Kent State on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. The petition garnered 226 signatures by Wednesday evening. (Courtesy of the Kent State COVID Safety Coalition)

Following the release of Kent State’s COVID-19 strategy for the spring semester, a new student-run group is advocating for a stricter plan. The Kent State Covid Safety Coalition released its own proposed guidelines, titled “Students Safe Six,” along with an Instagram account and online petition.

“We demand that improved COVID-19 safety measures, hereby known as the Students Safe Six, be implemented to ensure a safer and more successful spring 2022 semester,” the group said in the Change.org petition it launched Wednesday. The petition had more than 200 signatures by evening.

The proposal from the coalition calls for two weeks of remote instruction, weekly distribution of free KN95 or N95 masks to students, mandated PCR testing of all students regardless of vaccination status, the establishment of a threshold for returning to remote instruction, required COVID booster shots for students and “increased transparency about health decisions” made by the university.

The coalition is planning to hold a die-in style protest, where attendees simulate being dead, on Jan. 18 at 4 p.m. on the K at Risman Plaza. Those attending are asked to wear masks and socially distance themselves from others.

Kent State issued a vaccine requirement in August 2021 that was phased in over three stages during the fall semester. During a November town hall meeting, the requirement appeared to soften, with associate provost for academic affairs and chair of the pandemic leadership Manfred van Dulmen saying, “If you have not uploaded your vaccine information or if you have an exemption on file or if you’re not vaccinated you will be invited for regular weekly testing during week two” of the spring semester.

Students returning for the spring semester who live in residence halls are required to perform an at-home test one week before they move back to campus. There is no requirement for students who live off-campus to be tested before they return to classes Jan. 18, nor are faculty and staff required to be tested before returning to work in campus buildings.

The university plans to distribute masks to all students living in residence halls, according to the spring semester plan, though it is unclear what type of masks these will be. Additionally, only grab and go meals will be provided in dining halls for the first two weeks of the semester in an effort to prevent gatherings that may encourage transmission.

“The COVID-19 situation in Portage County is the worst it has ever been today, before students have even returned to campus,” said a spokesperson for the coalition who asked not to be identified.

“We hope that [the university] will be willing to come to the table, hear our concerns and listen to the scientific evidence behind our demands,” the group’s spokesperson said.

The Kent City Health Department released an emergency alert Dec. 23, 2021, citing “an overwhelming number of new COVID cases” with 1,642/100,000 cases per capita weekly. “This is more than 15 times the CDC’s threshold for a ‘high’ level of transmission, and is even higher than this time last year,” the notice stated.

Eric Mansfield, assistant vice president of content strategy and communications, declined to comment on the group or its proposed guidelines, referring KentWired instead to the emails sent Monday that outline the university’s spring semester strategy.

Alton is a reporter. Contact him at [email protected]Student-led coalition demands improvements in university’s COVID-19 protocols, plans “die-in” protest on campus