By reducing testing capacity and frequency, the University made itself less resilient and nimble in the face of a potential new variant like Omicron. Given that COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon, Cornell’s administration should take decisive action to improve its public health capacity, indoor air policies and logistical preparation for the next time there’s a surge.
This is not a call for endless restrictions on social life or acts of pandemic theater. I actually agree that any outdoor mask mandate is prioritizing the wrong thing given the miniscule risk for outdoor transmission compared to eating in a packed dining hall. Similarly, I acknowledge that most if not all of us are likely to get COVID-19 in our lifetime, experiencing it as a non-life-threatening illness somewhere between a cold we don’t notice and a bad case of the flu.
For Ellie Pfeffer ’23 and Alec James Martinez ’18, October was a busy month. From her dorm room on North Campus, Pfeffer launched a write-in campaign for the 3rd Ward seat on the Ithaca Common Council against incumbent Rob Gearhart, advocating for increased resources to be put towards the Ithaca Green New Deal. In his hometown of Laredo, Texas, Martinez co-founded Red Wing Laredo, “An organization devoted to ensuring tierra, democracia, y libertad for everyone,” in response to a clean water crisis in the town almost three times the size of Flint, Michigan that resulted in a boil-water notice in late September. You’d be easily forgiven for not knowing about these efforts, given that they occurred in the context of an escalating impeachment inquiry in the House. In fact, that impeachment inquiry may have distracted you from the fact that there were statewide elections this year in Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Virginia, as well as local elections across the nation (including the one that Pfeffer participated in in Ithaca itself).
The sun dipped below the horizon from the Slope when the last bout of laughter from my friends faded into appreciative silence. “Should we go?” my friend asked, settling her gaze on me — the person who consistently offers the most resistance to departing a sunset viewing. The dimming collage of pink, purple and orange not warranting a struggle, I stood and relented. I respected my friend’s desires, but not because the view was any less beautiful: Staying would entail my friend physically shaking through her discomfort. She wanted to leave not because of how the sunset looked, but because of how it was starting to make her feel: cold.
I fumble with my keys and phone as I bundle through my building’s never-quite-closed front door to begin my daily trudge up what my roommate spitefully calls “the Himalayas.” Unsure if I’ve already missed my Mom’s drive to work — or if she’s running a little late like I am — I tap through my phone and hit her name. Cutting across an intersection with no cars yet still full of potholes, I hear the dial tone cut out and a familiar voice greets me with a stressed, but warm, “Good morning.”
I didn’t use to call my Mom while heading to class in the morning. It took me until a couple of weeks ago to realize that my daily climb this semester coincided with her daily commute. Unfortunately, it took me much longer than a couple of weeks in college to want to call home at all. For a long time at the start of freshman year, my family and family friends played a one-sided game of phone tag with me, with them always trying to get me on the phone while I avoided their calls like a distant deadline. In the past year or so, though, I’ve not only started to make those calls myself instead of avoiding them, but I’ve realized that they’re a harbinger of my overall relationship with Cornell.
On Friday, September 13, actress Felicity Huffman was sentenced to 14 days in prison for paying $15,000 to have her daughter’s SAT altered as part of a wide-ranging college admissions scandal. Across Twitter and on shows such as The View, many reacted with indignation at a sentence they viewed to be too lenient, especially when contrasted to two black women — Kelley Williams-Bolar and Tonya McDowell — who also gamed the education system, but were sentenced to 10 days and five years in jail, respectively, for sending their children to school districts they didn’t reside in. In fact, both the prosecutor and judge in Felicity Huffman’s case argued that not sentencing Huffman to any jail time would be an injustice to Williams-Bolar. Although the prosecutor’s and judge’s diagnosis of potential injustice is correct, their assessment of the cause and the solution is not. Huffman walking free wouldn’t have been an injustice to Williams-Bolar and McDowell, nor is the injustice done to the two women corrected by sentencing Huffman to a two-week stint.
Last semester, my friend Evelyn Torres ’21 woke up at 6:30 a.m. every Wednesday to go to Belle Sherman Elementary School. There, she was a student teacher in a third-grade classroom for three hours as field work for Prof. Jeffrey Perry’s, developmental sociology, EDUC 2410: The Art of Teaching. Although I thought of the experience that prompted her tiredness later that day as a unique one among Cornell students, it turns out that there is a wide array of classes taught far above Cayuga’s waters that include in their curricula engagement in communities close to and far from the lake’s shores. In CS 5150: Software Engineering, a group of students is working to gamify snow-shoveling so that city sidewalks aren’t impassable for pedestrians of all ages and abilities following snowstorms. This semester, a group of students in GOVT 3121: Crime and Punishment are beginning research with two Cornell professors and a colleague at Ithaca College on the challenges of re-entry faced by those who have intersected with the criminal justice system in Ithaca and Tompkins County. In DEA 2203: StudioShift and DEA 2500: The Environment and Social Behavior, students are collaborating with Tompkins County Action to design a living space for 18 to 25-year-olds who don’t have a safe place to stay at night.
On Thursday evening, the largest blackout in Venezuela’s recent history began, and it continues to leave the vast majority of the country in the dark. This serves as the latest punctuating event in a long-term humanitarian crisis that has recently included the detainment of American journalist Jorge Ramos when he tried to show notoriously-glutted President Nicolás Maduro a video of Venezuelans picking through garbage for food, the failure of international humanitarian aid to enter the country due to blockage by the military and National Assembly President Juan Guaidó’s declaration of himself as the legitimate president. The true victims of this government-denied crisis are the Venezuelan people. And yet, in a U.S. context, discussion of this crisis has had a collateral casualty: history. On both the left and right of the political spectrum, actors have misrepresented the past to further their present aims.
On the left, a prime example comes from one of my fellow columnists, who last month described why the U.S. has no reason to be involved in Venezuela, citing the U.S.’s own flaws as a democracy and its history of intervention in Latin America.
Editor’s Note: This piece is part of a new dueling columns feature. In this feature, Michael Johns ’20 and Giancarlo Valdetaro ’21 debate, “Forty years after the Iranian Revolution, what posture should the U.S. take on the Islamic Republic?” Read the counterpart column here. A nation of over 80 million people, Iran has been a belligerent boogeyman for U.S. politicians to rail against ever since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and ensuing Iran Hostage Crisis. In the four decades since, the response to this initial attack on U.S. citizens and its continuing rhetorical accompaniments has ranged from aiding Iraq in a war against their Farsi-speaking neighbors to sending humanitarian aid to those same neighbors in the wake of a December 2003 earthquake. Today, as President Trump meets in Vietnam for a summit with the totalitarian leader of North Korea, another oppressive regime posing a nuclear threat to the U.S. and its allies across the globe, he and the U.S. foreign policy establishment should recognize that protecting Americans and liberating Iranians are not mutually exclusive aims. In fact, by rejoining the Iran deal, the U.S. can not only reduce the threat of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon, but can drastically improve the chances of Iran’s population achieving the democracy they have so long deserved.
Editor’s Note: This piece is part of a new dueling columns feature. In our very first feature, Michael Johns ’20 and Giancarlo Valdetaro ’21 debate, “How have the stakes of American politics risen so high?” Read the counterpart column here. As the rhetoric of both parties, the power grabs of outgoing Republican administrations, and the recent response of Democratic leaders to scandals in Virginia suggest, these certainly are uncommon political times we are living through. The public is not only increasingly polarized, but also increasingly isolated, as the number of counties close to the median voter has more than halved over the past two decades. And yet, to claim that our current political environment involves abnormally high stakes is to sanitize history.