My fellow Pilots, I write to you today from Schoenfeldt 212. I include this detail not so that you know where to address your Christmas cards, but because I want you to know that I’ve been here since August. I tell you this because I want to provide information and reassurance about campus life in the midst of a pandemic. The dreaded “Unless otherwise noted, all students will need to have moved off campus by noon this Sunday.” never came.
Again and again, these are two questions I continue to hear about living on campus next semester: will students get sent home once we are on campus, and will I get COVID-19? These are legitimate worries. It is impossible not to worry in the face of a pandemic, but it is important not to forget that hope can survive in the face of one as well. We hoped that the University would further invest in keeping on campus students safe, and they have. Furthermore, we always hope that those in our community will care about us and keep us safe, and we have the opportunity to do so.
Many of us still carry associations of last semester’s closure and this semester’s all too sudden transition online. These were acts which I know have made it harder for so many community members to put trust in the campus we want to call a home. I myself was only able to feel extremely confident after beginning to serve as the student representative on UP’s COVID-19 Steering Committee.
My confidence has come not from empty platitudes or often repeated reassurances, but from a tangible contract and essential commitments. A contract is being worked out with a third party to administer COVID-19 baseline and surveillance testing. It is a contract backed up by a financial investment, which is not the kind of monetary commitment you make when you are planning on having students on campus only for a short while. This is knowledge that I hope relieves your worries.
The commitments have come from the University’s commitment to following county, state and national guidelines. These are the same guidelines which state the dangers of sending college students back home. In other words, to send students home next semester would be in violation of the very guidelines the University is committed to following.
Ultimately though, the commitment that really matters and which will really make a difference is the commitment we need to make to our fellow community members — the commitment where we promise to keep one another safe next semester. To keep our campus open next semester and to help it flourish as a place where we want to be, we need to keep one another safe. To see news reports of people, so many of them people our age, gathering in dangerously large groups and refusing to don a mask might lead some to see this as an impossible ask for college students.
Well, I’m not the student body president for just any college. I’m UP’s student body president, and it’s the UP student community I place my faith in. We are Pilots and we are an empowered group of young people. When we see injustice, we call it out. When we have an opportunity to make a difference, we take it, and such an opportunity is in front of us now. We have the ability to make the decisions which will make our campus a safe and welcoming place next semester.
That is why I call on all of us, myself included, to act with great personal responsibility in the coming semester. No, we don’t have the ability to make a vaccine and end the pandemic (although I know a few nursing students I’d trust to try), but we have the ability to control our behavior. This is not rule-following for the sake of rule-following. This is an opportunity to set a strong and powerful example to those around us. An example of what protecting those we care about looks like. An example of what helping marginalized communities looks like.
On this vital point, I would ask that you read my classmate Meg Bender-Stephanski’s piece. This is, in the most literal sense, a matter of life and death. It’s frightening, yes, but to be able to make a decision which could save a life? To be able to make a choice which could keep the case count down? That is a beautiful gift. A gift all of us are surely too smart to waste. It is a gift with great returns in the form of keeping those we love safe, keeping our school open, and one day being able to hug a friend and a grandma again.
By making the conscious choice to follow social distancing guidelines next semester, we don’t just help guarantee ourselves a better campus, we help guarantee a better world. These may seem like grandiose words, but such an empowered attitude is exactly what we need to maintain hope and health in the face of a pandemic. I believe our Pilot community has the ability to make a difference on campus next semester, so please come and join me. I’ll do my part to keep our campus a safe and healthy one if you pledge to do the same.
Sage Taylor is the ASUP President. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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