March 21, 2023

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Re: “Ignoring Cornell’s COVID Critics is Unforgivable”

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To the editor:

Last week, Cullen O’Hara ’23 wrote a Letter to the Editor claiming that two Cornell Daily Sun journalists, in their article, “Three Years Since COVID-19 Lockdown, Cornellians Reflect on Pandemic,” failed to fairly represent the beliefs of the Cornell population. I would like to argue against O’Hara’s claims and articulate a defense for these two journalists. 

O’Hara argues that these two journalists intentionally shed a positive light on Cornell’s COVID-19 policies and failed to include opposing viewpoints. However, in accordance with journalistic standards, Eicher and Rubinson conducted interviews through random sampling. On a campus that is composed of a liberal majority these two writers penned an article that is representative of the beliefs of Cornell’s population — even if it is not the view that O’Hara aligns with. If Eicher and Rubinson had interviewed an individual with a viewpoint that criticized the University’s policy, they would have included that in the piece.  

O’Hara also focuses on a quote from CeCi Rodriguez ’26, conveying why she believes that the mask mandate should be reinstated. O’Hara states, “Ceci Rodriguez ’26, made demonstrably false assertions in a ludicrous argument for reinstituting masking, but Eicher and Rubinson made no attempt to contextualize or disprove her claims.” Eicher and Rubinson clearly provide the proper context for Rodriguez’s quote in two ways. First, the quote is included in the section of the article called “The Aftermath,” which discusses the later phases of the pandemic (including protecting immunocompromised individuals). Second, it’s stated that Rodriguez has three autoimmune conditions causing her to suffer immensely from viruses like the common cold. With this context, it makes perfect sense that Rodriguez would be in favor of masking in all buildings on campus. Rodriguez’s statement was merely an opinion, a reflection of her subjective reality. The focus of Eicher and Rubinson’s piece was to highlight Cornellians’ pandemic experiences, not to assess the merits of Cornell’s COVID-19 policies.

O’Hara’s agenda is not only to criticize Cornell’s COVID-19 policy, rather he is critiquing free speech and viewpoint diversity on campus (and he does this through attacking The Sun). He implies that The Sun does not represent the viewpoints of the conservative minority on campus. The Sun has published multiple pieces that criticize or disagree with the university’s pandemic policies. In fact, The Sun’s willingness to publish O’Hara’s article represents The Sun’s commitment to viewpoint diversity. 

O’Hara goes on to lament the “victims” of “Cornell’s COVID-19 regime” who he believes are the class of 2020 “who lost their commencement ceremony and senior spring semester” and the students “who were made to mask, test and isolate continuously.” What about the approximately 7 million people that died of COVID-19? What about the person who had to say their final goodbyes to their loved ones over a computer screen? What about the people left without the grandparents, parents, siblings and friends who died of COVID-19? 

The victims of COVID-19 are not the Cornell students who didn’t get to live the normal college experience. If anything, Cornell students were particularly lucky to live on campus during a time when most colleges functioned remotely. O’Hara states that “Ignoring the critics is unforgivable,” but the only unforgivable thing is the ease with which he reduces human life to something meaningless. In complaining about Cornell’s prolonged COVID-19 restrictions he states, “The plight of the few who are at risk is regrettable, but it is no excuse to heap endless restrictions on everyone.” Prioritizing human life is never regrettable. 

We live in a time where there is confusion about what constitutes truth and falsehood, and about what constitutes objective and subjective coverage. The media has become increasingly partisan and increasingly subjective, creating an even more divided public. So as not to provide a “whitewashed account of the past three years,” I would like to uplift our institutions and my peers at The Sun. I would like to celebrate the prioritization of the collective, which allowed for the protection of my immunocompromised peers and professors and the wider Ithaca community. I would like to illuminate the efforts of my fellow journalists who work hard to represent, learn and understand the truth. On a three year anniversary that evokes sadness, loss and pain for so many, I could only hope for the reinvigoration of spirit. 

Rebecca Sparacio ‘24