March 16, 2020

GUEST ROOM | So Sorry, But It’s Reasonable

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This semester is full of disappointments. Cancelled trips, cancelled events, travel bans and now, all classes suspended till after spring break. At first, this all seemed like it was done too early, but now, COVID-19 is in Ithaca.

The news that Cornell is putting all classes online has spread like, well, the coronavirus. The news that all classes have been suspended till after break spread even faster. In light of all this news, I have heard many statements and seen many comments online that have finally made me disheartened enough to write this article.

Paraphrased comments include: “Why do we have to be worried? It’s just the immunocompromised and elderly that have to worry,” “We’ve dealt with the flu, the University is being irresponsible!” “They can’t do this! I have a lab class!” and “Everyone who made this decision should be fired!”

Now that all these changes have had time to sink in, these voices aren’t so strong, but they are still a steady undercurrent. They are rampant in our age group, but even the older adults in our lives sometimes sound like this too. This is new to us, it is new to them. Something like this hasn’t happened in a hundred years, and none of us are ready.

I appreciate President Pollack’s position on the topic, and especially appreciate her statement, “We must act as a community to protect the whole community.”

While many of the inconsiderate comments also included more pressing concerns, such as things already paid for, they all rang true with the sentiment that since it wasn’t going to kill us, it shouldn’t affect our lives.

But we all need to think of others in our community.

The ones who could be killed.

Who are they?

This virus is particularly dangerous to people who are over sixty, and a lot of the Cornell faculty are above that age. Since they need to be at work, students (especially undergraduates) present a risk, since we are a mass of humans in far-too-close quarters, eating, sleeping, hanging out in large and varied groups and generally spreading every virus and germ we come across. With the students gone, they are much safer.

The immunocompromised are also at greater risk. While some of the above-sixty population also fit into this category, there are other people around that have hidden disabilities. You don’t know who around you is immunocompromised. It could be your friend, your roommate or the person sitting next to you.

I have even heard suggestions that only the immunocompromised should learn online, and the rest of us should continue business as usual. I am appalled by this ableist attitude. The immunocompromised should not have to get out of our way so we can have our fun.

Two of my brothers are immunocompromised. I’ve grown up with a very different view of sickness from years of being careful and trying not to bring anything home. The little cold that is not even worth mentioning to the person you just hugged could keep my brothers sick for a month and a half.

Many of the hygiene practices that some of you are just now picking up, like extra frequent hand-washing and avoiding anyone sick, I have been doing my entire life. It wasn’t till I arrived on campus that I realized that so many people’s experiences surrounding illness were so different from my own.

At Cornell, I have been frustrated by people who show up to social events even when sick. Nobody likes to miss out. I don’t either, but I’ve had to walk out of many events because someone was obviously very sick. The event just wasn’t worth bringing something home, where it would remain for a long time.

Now the stakes are far higher than the average cold or even the flu. And so now the sacrifices we all must make are proportionally higher. For me, I will miss the Cornell Fashion Collective show the most. It was supposed to be last Saturday. I (and many other designers) have been up till 3 a.m. on consecutive nights to get ready, and hundreds of dollars have been spent on supplies. Now it’s all over. Classes will be hard too. I’m in a lot of studio classes, and now we don’t even have two weeks to finish all the sewing.

And I’m sure that many of you are giving up so much more, especially those of you who are seniors.

Even with all these concerns, it is still a good decision. COVID-19 is now a global pandemic, and it is time that we college students start acting like it. It is time we start thinking about more than ourselves.

It’s not about us.

We will all be giving up so much this semester. Let’s try to do it gracefully.

Rebecca Woodie is a sophomore in the College of Human Ecology. Comments may be sent to [email protected] Guest Room runs periodically this semester.