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New Petition Regarding PSU Students' Return Home and Letter to President Barron

Published: at 12:00 PM

The text of a letter to Dr. Eric Barron is given below with minor formatting changes. This letter was submitted following a petition to the Penn State administration regarding Students’ Return Home on November 20, 2020.

Eric J. Barron, President of The Pennsylvania State University
Nicholas P. Jones, Executive Vice President and Provost of The Pennsylvania State University,
Kathleen Bieschke, Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs of The Pennsylvania State University,
Marcus Whitehurst, Vice Provost for Education Equity

Coalition for a Just University (CJU/PSU) Supporting faculty, graduate employees/students, undergraduate students, and staff

RE: Every “departure” is also an “arrival.”

With over 45,000 undergraduate students hailing from many regions of the country and outside the US at the University Park campus alone, and nearly 100,000 across all Commonwealth Campuses, Penn State is one of the largest US public universities. Penn State also has one of the largest graduate student populations among US schools, with over 14,000 students. Based on the assurance that the University would take the necessary measures to ensure their safety and well-being, these students came to Penn State to live in campus residence halls or off campus housing. The impact, both intended and unintended, of their behaviors are felt by many others, not only on campus, but also in our local communities and nation.

From every indication, the widely anticipated and alarming second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has arrived, and it is likely to be even more virulent than the first, adding to the more than 220,000 deaths and over 8 million Americans affected. As we approach November 20, when students are scheduled to depart campuses and transition to online education for the rest of the semester, it is crucial that Penn State does everything within its powers to ensure that students returning to their home communities do not spread the coronavirus to their families, loved ones, and neighbors. This is particularly important given the high level of local infection in the main campus, which is a direct consequence of the inadequate pre-arrival and daily testing plans.

We firmly believe that the University would be acting irresponsibly and could potentially be held legally liable if it does not institute appropriate and necessary measures to ensure that all our students are tested and/or given time to quarantine before returning to their homes and communities.

As Pennsylvania’s flagship institution, Penn State has the moral responsibility to its constituents, students, faculty, and staff to guarantee that it does not become a super-spreader of this disease. This is not only a matter of public health, but also of social/racial justice. According to data from the APM Research Lab ( and COVID Racial Data Tracker (, Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Island populations are dying at much higher rates than White people. If students are sent home without appropriate institutionally-sponsored mitigation, it could increase the disparate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the families and communities of our Black, Latinx, and Native American students.

In light of the fact that many scientific experts and medical practitioners recommend that families avoid large gatherings during Thanksgiving, we should commit to sending our students homeward in the best possible health and free of contagion. As a leader in higher education, the University should model the strongest evidence-based public health responsibilities.

We thus petition the University to develop immediate plans for mandatory testing of all of our students, both on and off campus, prior to their departure on or before November 20.

We petition the University to guarantee that infected (symptomatic and asymptomatic) individuals will be permitted to quarantine on campus in proper facilities and under medical supervision; and that they will be re-tested prior to being cleared to depart for home.

In the event that the University decides to bring students back for the Spring 2021 semester, we also petition the University to develop a more robust, comprehensive, and transparent testing policy for every campus in the Commonwealth.