Tensions rise between freshmen, upperclassmen in COVID-19 blame game

Students hang out on Fountain Mall without masks. Brittney Matthews | Photo Editor

By Lucy Ruscitto | Staff Writer

Blame for the COVID-19 crisis at Baylor has begun to spread between the freshmen and upperclassmen both on social media and in person.

Tensions began to rise following the posting of a short video clip on Twitter by Easton, Penn., junior Cassie Nataro of what looked like hundreds of freshmen gathered on Fountain Mall the weekend before school started,

“I was really upset to see the freshman so blatantly gathering without masks in large groups and not social distancing,” Nataro said.

Nataro said she took the video walking down the sidewalk of Fountain Mall when helping the freshmen settle in as a part of her Baylor Campus Recreation training during Baylor’s move-in week, Aug. 16 to 21.

During the first few nights of move-in, Nataro said she didn’t think the gathering sizes were too big, and students that were together both indoors and outdoors in groups were wearing masks. However, a few nights later, she said she witnessed the large group on the lawn.

Austin freshman Emma Ethridge said that she feels as though her entire class is connected to Nataro’s Twitter post, even if they weren’t present in the video.

“[It’s] a little bit annoying … for me personally, because I wasn’t there and I haven’t done anything like that. And obviously I don’t want to be part of a bigger problem,” Ethridge said. “There were plenty of people in Fountain Mall, there were plenty of people that were involved, but there’s literally 4,000 people in my class and there was not 4,000 people in Fountain Mall.”

Additionally, Ethridge said she believes that some of her peers who were shown in Nataro’s video had told her that they were contacted by upperclassmen via social media.

Cypress freshman Spencer McGown said that while most of the upperclassmen on campus he either has met or personally knows have been kind to him, he has experienced an instance of blame, simply for being a freshman.

“There was a car of upperclassmen that was driving around on one of the first days [of move-in],” he said. “They had a microphone in their car… they weren’t yelling but it was loud because of the microphone.”

McGown said that ironically, the upperclassmen in the car weren’t socially distanced or wearing masks, but they were commanding the freshmen on campus during move-in week to do so.

McGown said that a lot of his peers were not happy about the posted video, and that he noticed that in regards to Baylor’s COVID-19 requirements, some of his freshmen peers “don’t respect them, but will comply.”

“Most freshmen did a lot better about social distancing and wearing masks in public, and they were very conscious, even if it was just because they didn’t want to get caught on video again,” McGown said. “No one [in the freshman class] is being very fearful, but they’re being cautious.”

Reseda, Calif., junior Alejandro Lopez, is a Community Leader in the Brooks Residential Flats on campus. He said that some of the freshmen that have spoken to him about Nataro’s video have been frustrated or upset because it didn’t represent their class as a whole and singled out a small population of the entire Baylor community.

“I definitely understand where she’s coming from, why she’s frustrated about the situation and why she [Nataro] decided to do that. But I think that certain point, it might have been a little too much,” Lopez said.

Melissa senior Claire Dillashaw said that she believes Nataro was “absolutely right” to post her video footage of the freshmen on social media.

“It didn’t come off to me like she was trying to trash anyone or trying to make Baylor look bad or make the freshman look bad. She was trying to raise awareness and hopefully bring it up to where Baylor could address it,” Dillashaw said.

Lopez said he has watched the attitudes of the freshmen regarding the pandemic fluctuate as he has lived with them in Brooks Flats.

“Everyone was in quarantine for like five months, so obviously they’re craving that social interaction,” Lopez said.

Lopez said that at first, because of the missed opportunity that the class of 2024 had to make friends in the summer at in in-person Line Camp, that socializing didn’t seem too immediate of a concern. He said that freshmen were initially keeping more to themselves.

“Within the last week or so it’s seemed to blow up a lot more, especially like that video that came out when there was like 200 freshmen on Fountain Mall,” Lopez said. “Overall I think they might be getting a little sidetracked … they are not taking care of themselves as they should be. As time goes on, it feels like they’re not paying as much attention to it.”

With Baylor’s continued uptick in cases, currently sitting at 456 currently active cases, Lopez said he believes the spread of COVID-19 within the Baylor community is not completely the freshmen’s fault.

“I think it’s getting spread by people off-campus, and like maybe freshmen attending these events bringing them back to campus,” he said. “Upperclassmen are just as guilty of these off-campus gatherings.”

Ethridge said she agrees, and that the majority of COVID-19 cases she has heard of have been from off-campus gatherings, resulting from the off-campus students’ greater “ability to hang out” than freshmen. She also said that the gathering guidelines are so enforced in the freshmen residence halls that it’s difficult to even get together in dorm rooms anyway.

Lopez said that despite the recent reside-in-place order of Martin Residence Hall’s third and fourth floor residents for four days after 21 reported positive cases, he thinks that not all residence halls are having this issue.

Lopez said that at Brooks Flats, each resident has an HVAC unit in their own rooms, making sure that they are breathing in purified air. Lopez also said his residence hall has only had a small amount of COVID-19 cases.

“I’m really starting to wonder how bad the other dorms are like, especially [dorms like] Kokernot because they don’t even have sinks in the dorm, so they’re having to brush their teeth and wash their faces all together,” Nataro said.

Dillashaw said she understands that it isn’t plausible for the freshmen to be spread out within the dorms but wishes there was a way for them to do so.

“They have to pretty much be right next to each other all the time. The dorms are small. They have community bathrooms,” Dillashaw said. “But I wish that we had the space and the resources to be a little bit more spread apart.”

Dillashaw also said believes that upperclassmen’s off-campus events are contributing to the spread. However, she feels the freshmen’s lack of experience and time in Waco has negatively impacted the campus as a whole.

“I think everyone could be doing better. It’s easy for me like to secretly judge the freshmen. But I do think that it probably is the younger classes, which is understandable because they’re trying to make friends,” she said.

Dillashaw said that despite her empathy for the class of 2024, she and her senior friends are still hoping and doing all they can to have their graduation, and that involves following the Baylor COVID-19 guidelines put in place.

“I think also like we have such an appreciation for Waco, and such a love for this talented community that we know that if we did get virus we could spread it to other people in the community, and no one wants to do that,” Dillashaw said. “We don’t want to spread it to our professors, people who are immunocompromised. There is more of an awareness of that with the older classes.”

Though she thinks the freshman could do a better job of slowing the spread, Nataro said she agrees that they are not the only ones not using enough caution in terms of COVID-19 prevention. She said she thinks the spreading of the disease could fall on both the upperclassmen and the freshmen evenly, especially in light of the recent news of off-campus parties and gatherings of 10 or more people within Baylor’s Greek system.

“I want to be clear, it wasn’t the entire freshman class. I think upperclassmen are mad at … the one person that can ruin it for everyone else,” Nataro said.

Lopez said that he believes in instances like McGown’s and Ethridge’s peer’s experiences, a lot of upperclassmen are using the class of 2024 as a scapegoat, when in reality, they too are at fault. He said he doesn’t think there’s tension but more so a bias against the younger class.

“Everyone is just as responsible as a freshman,” Lopez said. “Maybe they’re just trying to blame a certain population, rather than looking and trying to handle themselves and making sure they’re safe and making sure the people they hang out with are safe.”