Op-ed: Do you hear people singing (and playing wind instruments)?

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Tufts students are now living in a Footloose-style fantasy: the university banned singing. Originally mentioned in a September 2 email, the new rule prohibited any student participating in face-to-face lessons by singing or playing wind instruments anywhere in public or private in order to limit the spread of aerosols. Even students used to singing in the shower will find that engaging in this type of behavior today risks disciplinary action. University announcement acknowledges challenges imposed by health policies adopted to curb the spread of COVID-19 but ignores the only impractical restriction imposed on students studying music.

The new rule is incongruous with the administration’s previous statements regarding its handling of the pandemic, including its guiding principle of “to keep[ing] the high quality of a Tufts education. To claim that a major in music can continue to receive a high quality education without singing or practicing its instrument is as absurd as claiming that a major in English can do the same without writing. The administration said policies like these are “necessary to protect public health.” But who is protected by the ban on students singing in their own dormitories? Roommates, because they live close to each other, are already exposed to all kinds of oral ejections from their cohabitant. By sending conflicting messages like these, the administration needlessly erodes the faith of the student body.

The ban stands out because the university has not sanctioned all other activities that could potentially lead to the release of aerosols, we don’t expect that either. Otherwise, he could forbid speaking above a whisper, like an author in the Atlantic suggested. Ideally, the restrictions should balance the costs of intruding on daily life and violations of student freedom of expression with the added security benefits they provide. The administration needs to understand that for musicians a blanket ban is about as impractical as asking them not to speak.

The timing of the ban’s announcement is also irresponsible and suggests that it was released almost after the fact. The ad said that “Current scientific evidence strongly indicates that singing or playing wind instruments generates aerosol particles,” which can transmit the virus to others. But this awareness was not a scientific breakthrough that occurred between the publication of the plan to reopen the university at the end of June and the announcement of the ban just before the start of classes. The deadline to submit the Fall 2020 Intent Forms was July 7. and students who have chosen to attend classes in person are bound by any regulations Tufts chooses to adopt. But music students were indeed forced to comply with a surprise rule that would make their studies impossible if they complied.

The administration cannot really believe that the ban will eliminate singing altogether. It throws in the wind the guiding principles of public health. Failures of abstinence-only education programs have show that attempting to discourage certain behaviors by outright banning them is a generally ineffective public health strategy. If they don’t do it in the shower, the students will do it elsewhere. Despite the new rule, many will undoubtedly continue to sing. Tufts’ indiscriminate ban, however, will generate unnecessary stigma and fear.

Tufts students are smart. They are more than willing to make sacrifices to protect their health and that of those around them. However, they also recognize the nonsense. No one expects the concert choir to call this semester, but exceptions should be made to allow students to sing in the privacy of their own rooms.


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