Loomis Chaffee: No Way Home

Justin Wu '22, Opinions Editor

What am I going to do? Where am I going to go?
Despite the red marker of a positive COVID-19 test, health was the last thing on my mind. Overshadowed by logistical uncertainties and an ardent desire to save my wallet from its imminent death, I had bigger problems to worry about. Such are the effects of the glaring contradictions in Loomis Chaffee’s COVID-19 policies, a provision that illuminates the school’s long-standing neglect of international students.
This article will address two key features of Loomis’ COVID policy—firstly, the inconsistencies behind Head of School Dr. Sheila Culbert’s recognition of the virus as “endemic,” and secondly, the lack of an online learning option.
On January 9, 2022, Dr. Culbert’s all-school address denounced the virus as one that “may very well be endemic in our society,” while acknowledging the Omicron variant’s diminished effects on young people. Yet, it is pretty ironic that “any student, faculty, or staff who tests positive [must] isolate for seven days and return on day eight” if one is simply referring to just another endemic illness, such as the flu.
In doing so, Loomis’ absolutist stance on off-campus quarantine—ignoring its concurrent assertions of the virus’ “mild” nature—has caused major inconveniences for students who live outside of New England. With a lack of familial connections in students’ close proximity, contracting COVID-19 has become more a logistics nightmare than a health risk: a problem exacerbated by Loomis’ unwillingness to compromise with on-campus quarantine options.
This dilemma has disproportionately harmed international students, whose parents are often unable to physically visit the campus due to work commitments, travel restrictions, or a fear of contracting the virus themselves.
However, Loomis’ deus ex machina to this pervasive challenge comes at the heavy price tag of $4500 USD.
Student Health Advocates (SHA), the only option offered to international students who tested positive for COVID-19, is a guardian and concierge service that allows LC students to quarantine in nearby hotels without the in-person assistance of their parents or close relatives.
While supporters may point to the discounted membership price of $1200, parents are reluctant to spend this money just for it to be potentially wasted. Furthermore, even if financial circumstances were not a problem, others are unwilling to trust an independent service to take care of minors in a foreign country.
SHA’s exorbitant cost, along with a lack of viable alternatives, reinforces the myth of economic capacity of international students as a justification for Loomis to disregard their logistical needs. This sentiment was also demonstrated during the 2020-21 academic year—in which a number of international students rented houses to attend in-person classes during Fall Term I.
One could argue that this decision was an entirely optional one. Yet, the mental strains of online classes and time zone differences pressured families to protect their child’s academic and psychological welfare.

This administrative “overreliance” on the pockets of international students incites a spillover effect, in which interpersonal tensions are aggravated by ubiquitous wealth disparities.
The stereotype of international students as wealthy, silver-spooned adolescents is greatly perpetuated when they are picked up by SHA’s limousines in front of the Health Center—an inadvertent message of elitism that propagates communication barriers with those who depend on scholarships and financial aid.
In that same address, Dr. Culbert also announced the mandated continuation of in-person classes, anticipating that Loomis will no longer “offer the same level of online instruction that [was] provided last year.”
Hence, students are compelled to return to campus under laissez-faire COVID restrictions—with the prompt re-opening of interscholastic sports competitions, as well as popular facilities such as Olcott gym. This may excite those who are willing to take the risk of contracting COVID, especially with the Omicron variant’s moderate effects.
Nonetheless, international students are left fearing for more than just their health. These pelicans face stringent travel bans and other inconveniences should they contract the virus—the most notorious example being China, whose “zero-COVID policy” demands positive cases to remain in their current country for up to a year before returning (How Long Can China’s Zero-COVID Policy Last, The Economist). Yet, the lack of an online learning option necessitates a return to campus against international students’ wills.
It is true that Loomis has offered “academic accommodations for unique circumstances” for some students that face these authoritarian policies. However, the vast majority of international (including Chinese) students are disincentivized from pursuing this alternative; an apparent lack of direct educational guidance, as well as access to guardian supervision, has rendered this option useless.
The imperative for better communication between students, faculty, and campus administration has never been as urgent as it is now. It is only by cultivating an environment of constructive discourse, in which international students can place their needs at the forefront of Loomis’ administrative priorities, that international students may finally find a way home.