An Open Letter to SLU Administrators Regarding the Recent Email to the Student Body

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the University News Editorial Board and Staff. We hope this opens a dialogue about the ways in which the SLU administration and students have handled campus COVID-19 restrictions.

To the Administration of Saint Louis University:

We wish that we didn’t have to write this letter. In the midst of this deadly pandemic, circumstances behoove us to come together and unite in solidarity as we all cope with the challenges COVID-19 has wrought. But your rhetoric of late, especially the rhetoric laced throughout your recent email to students, sent on February 9, has left us with no other option than to publicly seek redress for what was said.

This pandemic has put strains on us all. It has affected our physical health, our social health, and, perhaps most importantly, our mental health. While we are sure that your intentions behind your most recent email to the student body were good, it lacked compassion and left us with a bad taste in our mouth.

To demonstrate, we will take this opportunity to provide you with some perspective about the harm we feel the email caused to the relationship between the student body and the university administration.

First, the email began with the assertion that some students have simply “given up.” This generalization is unfair and frustrating, especially for the students who have been constantly trying to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances and regulations SLU has put into place.  While there are undoubtedly a number of students who continuously ignore public health and safety guidelines, they do not represent the vast majority of the student body that does follow the guidelines you have put in place. The administration can condemn the actions of those people without declaring that a portion of the SLU community has “given up” on caring about the health of our friends and family.

Second, you said that you were “deeply saddened” about the increased positivity rate, but went into elaborate detail about all the things that could have happened had the rate gone down or remained the same. We understand that this increased positivity rate has consequences, and that if it gets worse more stringent rules might need to be imposed. But there was no need to dangle several “new opportunities” in front of us knowing fully well that the positivity rate likely won’t subside in the near future due to Super Bowl parties. While some in-person events will now be permitted, this change does not substantively make up for the way the administration effectively taunted the student body with new policies, all while pinning the blame on students when these new policies could not be implemented.

Third, the administration threatened students. You made us feel as if students are entirely responsible for the increased positivity rate. You made the entire student body feel like the “other.” We didn’t come to SLU to be talked down to, berated and threatened by administrators. We understand that actions have consequences, but to pin all of the blame for this bump in the positivity rate on the student body as a whole is unfair and disappointing. From our perspective, it seems as though the administration is using the actions of a minority of the student body as a scapegoat for its own failed containment efforts, all while lumping these people in with the rule-abiding students. We do not appreciate that.

The administration opted to hold in-person classes on campus this semester. Faculty and staff commute to and from SLU on a daily basis. Thousands of students live in close quarters, both on and off-campus. By bringing us all together in this way, the administration bears as much responsibility for the health of the campus community as the student body does. Despite this, you continue to drive a wedge into that community by villainizing us.

All of this is not to say that the increased positivity rate is simultaneously alarming and disappointing. We want a COVID-free campus. We want to be healthy. We want to protect the St. Louis community. But instead of appealing to these important ideas and values when addressing us, the administration sent us an email chastising us like children. Your words dripped with condescension. Ultimately, the email made a bad situation worse.

Instead of pointing fingers and sowing division, the administration should approach this troubling new data with grace, wisdom and solidarity. Practicing the Jesuit value of cura personalis, Latin for “care for the whole person,” ought to be a top priority for administrators, especially in these unprecedented times. Thus far, it clearly has not.

Moving forward, we ask that the administration consider these concerns and work to address them. Let us treat each other with the dignity and respect that we all deserve. Together, we can weather this pandemic and emerge stronger, wiser and closer than we were before.