When it comes to a global pandemic, there is no one guilty party. People will die from the decisions that are made, but it seems that to the University of Mississippi community — from students to administrators, athletics and Greek organizations — the worst thing that could happen is taking the blame for a shutdown.
The blame game will only result in loss, with people in Oxford ending up on a ventilator. And that’s if they’re lucky enough to access a ventilator or an ICU bed. The university distributed safety guidelines with ample room for fallibility, while students complain about the university’s attempts to make the most money and break the few rules that could prevent near-immediate havoc.
Now is not the time for best-case scenarios; we must all be realistic and accept that we are not an exception to the nightmare playing out across college campuses nationwide. UNC-Chapel Hill and Notre Dame closed just days after resuming classes, and there is no reason to believe that we will avoid the same fate.
To put it simply, no matter how much Greek presidents, university administration or C19 ambassadors want you to believe that everyone is following an imperfect set of rules while singing kumbaya in a socially distant circle, they are not.
They are here to protect an image, whether that be the name of their Greek organization, themselves or the UMFamily narrative they have tried to force onto us. Apart from academics, the university relies on its marketable campus life —“We never lose a party”— an image that can only sell with false assurances of safety.
A Twitter PSA from student-athletes who have allegedly been spotted at bars and house parties does not instill hope; it demonstrates the hypocrisy from the administration and the student body and the refusal for both parties to admit fault.
There are already positive cases in Greek houses, masses of freshmen have been seen without masks and a faculty member has died of COVID-19. The state Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) wouldn’t discuss the pandemic while tens of thousands of college students flood Mississippi. The university has even stopped sending mass emails every time someone tests positive. What is our breaking point? Who will finally hold some sort of accountability instead of passing blame?
Blindly saying “We are following health and safety guidelines” is not going to keep people safe. A BlackBoard quiz telling students to wash their hands is not going to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in crowded residence halls or bars. It is not going to magically cure the virus, and it is not going to prevent a student, faculty or staff member from having a breathing tube shoved down their throat.
Spoiler alert: wearing a mask doesn’t mean you get to do whatever the hell you want.
Confronting reckless behavior isn’t “COVID-shaming,” whatever that means. It’s demanding transparency not just from the university, but from ourselves. Why would we set the bar so high for administration but have no bar at all for ourselves and our fellow students?
Last year, the DM published a staff editorial, titled “Are students the only adults in the room?” At this point, there are no adults in the room.
It seems clear that this semester isn’t going to end well. University administration and students are already prepared to say “I told you so,” but behaviors and policies remain the same.
Why would administrators — who have asserted that student health is of the utmost priority — make such irresponsible decisions? The only logical answer is money.
We firmly believe that finances are one of the deciding factors that have brought us back to campus. Student fees, tuition, housing and meal plans are the backbone of the university, the “lifeblood,” as described by a former interim chancellor. There is no way university administrators would slaughter the cash cow. Over half of the budget comes from us, the students.
Residential students have to sign a contract that says they know they could die from living in a dorm, but these are the same dorms that the university has claimed for years are not the reason students get sick. The university claims that it isn’t forcing or coercing them into signing, but if all freshmen are still required to live on campus unless granted an exception, what are they supposed to do?
The phrase “unprecedented times” is overused and untrue. We saw students catching COVID-19 on Spring Break, scrambling to leave campus and facing financial hardship. The university rightly sent students home in the spring even with no confirmed cases on campus. As the confirmed cases total 160 and clusters spread, it makes little sense to go forward with in-person instruction. Like putting a Band-Aid on a broken leg, we’re slapping on masks and pretending everything is fine.
We know this school year is ruined. We’ve known that since March. However, we are not willing to risk the safety of community members to live out whatever fantasies we had about our last year of college, and other students shouldn’t either.
So what’s the magic number? What’s the tipping point, or more bluntly, death toll, that’s going to send us away from campus, where we should have been in the first place? In the meantime, how many house parties or nights on the Square are worth friends, neighbors and family dying?
All we can do is encourage everyone to follow the rules. Hopefully, we can reduce as much damage as we can, but make no mistake, the choices already made are going to cause damage we can’t stop.