An Argument to Move College Students to Follow COVID-19 Guidelines

Though the COVID-19 pandemic is strengthening in parts of the United States, many universities here are planning to reopen their doors in the fall to educate, house, feed, and entertain students.

There are some who believe that re-opening cannot be done safely this fall, and one of the key failings, it’s predicted, will be student compliance with measures to slow the spread of the pandemic, such as keeping a safe distance from one another and wearing masks. Here’s the opening of an NPR story on the problem:

When asked if he could imagine a college party where everyone is wearing masks, Jacques du Passage, a sophomore at Louisiana State University, laughs. “No. I don’t think they would do that,” he says. “I think [students] would just have the party and then face the repercussions.”

So how might universities get students to comply with guidelines on social distancing, mask-wearing, hand cleaning, and the like? They might use a variety of methods, such as public service announcements and advertising, recruiting influencers to model good pandemic caution, perhaps rewarding students for good behavior and disciplining them for bad.

What, if anything, can philosophers do to help increase student compliance? Well, one thing philosophers are experts at is constructing arguments. And while it is an open question to what extent students can be moved to behave in certain ways by philosophical argument (and the extent to which humans are good at thinking rationally), it seems worthwhile to have some possibly effective arguments to deploy. After all, there is a lot at stake, and we might as well make use of the tools and skills we have to help out.

So, philosophers, give it a shot. Pick a particular type of behavior universities will want students to exhibit in order to mitigate the pandemic and give us an argument you think might have a chance of moving them to do it.

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