Cancel campus walking tours

Hannah Lopez

Daniel Jaffe, interim executive vice president and provost, released a statement recently declaring that UT wants to “minimize the number of people returning to the campus community at any one time” to reduce the spread of COVID-19. In the announcement, students were asked to reconsider returning to campus. 

However, despite students being urged to spend their semester at home and Austin Public Health increasing the COVID-19 community risk level to Stage 5, UT is still allowing admitted students to schedule in-person campus walking tours. 

In-person campus tours are not worth compromising the health of the student body — especially when there are other virtual routes to consider. 

These tours pose a serious health risk to students taking in-person classes or living on campus who will be in spaces visited by the tour participants. 

In order to decrease the spread of COVID-19 at UT, the University needs to cancel all campus walking tours for the spring semester and instead switch to a virtual format. 

In accordance with Austin Public Health guidelines, residents should not gather with anyone outside of their household, dining and shopping should be limited to essential trips only and all nonessential travel should be avoided. 

The walking tours, which are 90 minutes and can hold up to nine people, violate all of these recommendations.

Kathleen Harrison, the communications manager for the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost, said in an email that each student registrant may register two guests — meaning multiple households could be interacting within the same spaces while on the tour. Harrison said  guides are trained in proper safety protocols, but acceptedstudents and their guests still interact with spaces on campus, potentially contributing to the spread of COVID-19.

Additionally, visitors often eat at restaurants on Guadalupe Street or take breaks in student rest areas. These spaces, where students study and take online classes, are already limited due to COVID-19 closures — and unlike visitors, students don’t have the choice to move elsewhere. 

Even though UT is only allowing admitted students to attend these on-campus tours, tour slots are already booked up until April. This indicates a large population of visitors will still be on our campus this spring. 

Additionally, due to the existence of virtual tours, the on-campus walking tours are completely unnecessary. 

Not only does UT offer a 360° virtual tour of some of the most famous campus spots, but the University also provides sessions where prospective students can sign up for a live virtual tour or an online information session about admissions or academic programs. Furthermore, virtual tours offer a larger number of tour guides. 

“In-person tours are led by one Texas Guide while there are between two and five Texas Guides on each live virtual tour, which allows for multiple student perspectives to be shared,” Harrison said. 

Diana Ginther, a junior at Champion High School in Boerne, Texas, stated that while she hopes she will be able to tour the UT campus during her senior year, virtual tours are a service she would use if COVID-19 is still an issue. 

“Hopefully once the vaccine comes in, everything will be a little bit better, but I'm just concerned for my safety,” Ginther said. “So I wouldn't do in-person tours.”

Instead of risking both the health of students and the visitors themselves by providing in-person campus walking tours to admitted students, UT should completely transition to an online tour format this spring. If UT truly wants to claim that its mission is to “Protect Texas Together,” it should start prioritizing the safety of its student body. 

Lopez is a rhetoric and writing junior from Nederland, Texas.