OpEd: ​The Other Victims of Ignoring Covid-19 on Campus

Aug 19, 2020

The following column was submitted to newspapers statewide, as well as college newspapers, in the wake of UNC-Chapel Hill's decision to shut down in-person learning for the fall semester.

By Ardis Watkins
SEANC Executive Director

The decision to move to online classes at UNC-Chapel Hill will have a severely negative impact on the lowest paid and most vulnerable workers on the campus, who are predominately from communities of color and can least afford likely job cuts and furloughs.

These hardworking employees may lose their income and their healthcare in the middle of a pandemic all because students refused to follow simple rules and act responsibly.

This recklessness endangered many employees who work in the classrooms, residence and dining halls and grounds there, and will continue at all of our 17 UNC System campuses until these young adults act in a responsible manner.

Officials at the UNC System and state leaders must now step up to ensure these families don’t fall through the cracks through no fault of their own.

In-person instruction is possible if our college campuses enact and enforce strict mask-wearing and social distancing measures, with harsh penalties for those who violate them. Administrators should be allowed to institute fines for anyone on campus not wearing a mask or socially distancing.

Personnel in positions of authority should monitor residence halls and enforce these mandates. Curfews should be enacted for dorms with automatic expulsion if a student violates them.

The national offices of sororities and fraternities should make it clear they will pull the charters of any chapters whose members willfully do not comply.

It’s time to get tough. College students are not children in an elementary school classroom. They are adults. They are capable of wearing masks. They are capable of respecting social distancing. It’s time for them to take responsibility.

People in the traditional student demographic are capable of following rules to keep themselves and others alive. They were able to keep the lights off in London during World War II to avoid detection for bombing, and they were able to go to Vietnam and keep track of each other and the gear they needed to stay alive.

This generation has already proven it is ready to step up in a time of great crisis. From the debates over gun control following the Parkland shooting to the recent Black Lives Matter movement, our next generation of leaders are already leading.

They can absolutely wear a mask. They can show enough control not to throw parties. And they can be held accountable when they don’t. This isn’t summer camp. It is a place of learning and where thousands of North Carolinians earn their living and get their healthcare.