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Nehali Watwe

Many colleges are starting to formulate more solid plans for the fall semester, leaving many students wondering how their own personal campus experience will look. Mandatory mask-wearing and social distancing are only two of many policies that will be put in place regarding on-campus regulations at UNC. How these policies extend to students living off-campus, participating in extracurricular activities, and leaving the Chapel Hill community, are as yet unanswered questions. There are many suggested policies and “mandatory guidelines”, but how likely are students to follow these guidelines? What should students be cognizant of when considering returns to campus?

It is a foregone conclusion that there will be no return to normalcy during the Fall 2020 semester. This realization has led to disappointment among many incoming freshmen students, who stand to lose their first “college experience,” as well as seniors, who are looking to end their undergraduate career on a high note. Many students have expressed resistance to some of these new policies, specifically regarding social activities off-campus as well as regulations about leaving campus. A recent survey of UNC students revealed that while students will likely wear masks on campus, they are less likely to physically distance off-campus and avoid large gatherings. The so-called “college experience” is one of higher education’s biggest selling points, involving parties, extracurriculars with friends, late nights in the libraries, and attending sporting events. Without it, many students feel as though they are not getting their money’s worth. This increases the incentive of students to deviate from social distancing guidelines, particularly for students who live off campus, farther away from the eyes of the administration.

Many young people are under the impression that, if they contract the virus, they are more likely to have “mild” versions of the virus resulting in minimal or no symptoms. This belief is not only inaccurate, but dangerous. Recent studies show that young people are emerging as some of the biggest spreaders of the disease, due to many not knowing that they have it. While it may be true that college students are less likely to develop severe symptoms, it is far from impossible. More importantly, those with mild or asymptomatic infections can easily spread the virus to students, faculty, and staff members in the community who are more vulnerable. However, recently, a social media petition has been circulating, trying to convince the UNC administration to move fully online for the fall semester, due to worries about these vulnerable populations and concerns about the administration’s commitment to safety in the fall.

Mutual accountability in times of crisis is what holds communities together, and without it, it is unlikely we will ever see a return to normalcy. Social distancing saved thousands of lives during the Spanish Influenza pandemic, and is largely credited for flattening the curve. Furthermore, college students coming together to create change is far from a novel idea. History is full of examples of what can happen when young people set their minds to creating change. NC A&T students began the famous “Greensboro Sit-Ins,” a movement that spread nationwide and led to the desegregation of many businesses. In 2005, Georgetown students staged a hunger strike, not stopping until campus janitors were paid a living wage. Students at the University of Southern Florida in the 1970s began the “Take Back the Night” movement, which fought to address sexual assault on college campuses, and remains an annual event at campuses across the country. College students have been at the forefront of change for decades, and in times of crisis, have shown what they are capable of when they work together. If proper measures are taken, America can succeed in flattening the curve. However, the only way that we will be able to is with people, particularly young people, putting aside their own personal comfort and expectations and looking out for the community as a whole.

Despite how painful it may be to lose some of the aspects of college that make it “worth it,” in the era of the coronavirus, the effects of each individual person’s actions are magnified more than ever. Each small action has an effect on those around us.  If students wish to see a “normal” spring semester in 2021, they need to be fully aware of the ramifications for breaking social distancing guidelines. When the people in charge fail, young people inevitably step up. With the right commitment, students are capable of leading the charge and once again changing the world for the better.

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