Saint Louis University is one of the few universities that has avoided a major COVID-19 outbreak. As soon as the global pandemic started, SLU made a quick and diligent effort to make everyone safe in our community. After the administration elected to move classes entirely online for the remainder of the spring 2020 semester, there was hope that students would be back on campus in the fall. After extensive planning, this wish became reality when it was announced that the fall 2020 semester would be conducted in a hybrid format, meaning that classes would be available both in-person and on Zoom. Both students and faculty were required to follow certain public health guidelines which were largely successful. With only one major spike in cases around Halloween, the campus community managed to keep COVID-19 in check. Yet, as we get into the swing of things for the spring 2021 semester, this story has taken an unexpected turn.
On Feb. 9, the community received an email from Student Development titled, “Breaking Point or Turning Point? That’s up to you.” With an increase in reports of unsafe social gatherings and an increase in cases overall, the email took a hostile tone by calling out students for having “given up” on following the safety rules. There was a mixed response from the SLU community to the email with some calling the email unnecessarily harsh since it seemingly condemned the entire student body for the actions of a few. Others believed it was justified. How did we get to this point? Aren’t we supposed to be OneSLU?
From the start of SLU’s response to COVID-19, school leaders called for unity. This is demonstrated by the OneSLU campaign that has been plastered over the walls of our school. Historically, uniting behind a universal cause during extremely difficult times has proven to be a very effective way of combating the enemy, be it a microscopic virus or a rival country. In the United States today, however, a call for unity may be futile. One might think that the danger of a deadly virus is something that everyone can agree upon, but sadly it is not. Since we cannot even agree on these elementary things, we must consciously avoid creating even greater polarization while making decisions.
Unfortunately, the university’s dialogue regarding COVID-19, their response to the virus and, most importantly, their interpretation of student’s actions has been muted by the presence of this polarization in our country. This naive approach has produced an increase in COVID-19 cases and has manifested itself in alienating emails being sent by administrators. Right or wrong, there are people in our SLU community whose perceptions of the pandemic do not align with the university’s guidelines. There are those who do not believe in the threat of the virus and there are those who do but choose to ignore it. They are our peers who sit next to us in our classes and comment on our discussion posts. They are part of OneSLU.
As a community, we must encourage students from all backgrounds with all sorts of opinions to participate in community dialogues on campus. While it may be difficult in this partisan climate, engaging with others from different perspectives is how we learn, both scholastically and as individuals. SLU makes a very persistent effort to create a climate where this is possible, but this does not extend to the discussion about COVID-19. So what should SLU do to those who don’t agree with their way of approaching the coronavirus?
The answer is simple: if students don’t want to follow the guidelines, they ought to be required to attend class via Zoom and live off campus. While we all want to be on campus, those who value their nightlife more than the safety of students and faculty should not be allowed to endanger others or strip those who do follow the rules of their opportunity to learn on campus. To do this is not a punishment to those who disagree with SLU and their response to COVID-19, but rather a way to keep our community safe. Those who do not believe in public health guidelines or chose to ignore them should be allowed to participate in SLU activities, but in a way that their decisions do not put the health of students and faculty at risk.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion; that is the beauty of our country and universities like SLU. However, to bring a community together we must not reject the opinions of others, even if we disagree with them. Our community needs to be one where we listen to and respect one another. While this division in our country is a consequence of the current political climate, I fear that these divisive practices could spread on our campus. SLU must not disregard the natural polarization of opinions moving forward. There unequivocally must be guidelines to protect us all from COVID-19, but there must also be a way for those who disagree with the administration’s approach to still attend SLU. We must foster a community where everyone is welcome. Only when we have done this can we truly be OneSLU.