Perfection Cannot be Expected in a Semester that is Anything But
By now, it is a familiar pattern. We watch a college reopen with hopeful apprehension only to witness them shutter weeks later with high cases of COVID-19. Too many students out partying. Not enough social distancing. The world looks on, shaking its head. Those gosh darned college kids, they say. Don't they understand that there is more to life than partying? Meanwhile, Furman University is devoting considerable effort to getting it through our thick, young skulls that the choice between staying on campus and being sent home is entirely up to us. Everyone must be a team player, they say —and sometimes, that means not tolerating those who are not.
After all, it is an unavoidable fact that if large gatherings occur, the disease will spread, people will get sick - maybe seriously ill - and we will all be scolded and sent home. Our community unquestionably has a collective obligation to do whatever it takes to prevent that from happening.
What I want to suggest, then, is not a policy change but an attitude change. We need to find a way, somehow, to be simultaneously stern about the rules and compassionate towards the rule-breakers. Policing ourselves is a necessary evil. Yet, a quick glance around social media shows that some people are way too gleeful about playing neighborhood nanny. Too many people seem to think punishing our fellow students is a positive thing for the community. It is not. We have peers who face suspension for trying to cut loose for a minute; that should never have to be seen as anything but unfair. We should not be telling each other sternly that “justice will be served” by sending the rule-breakers packing. Justice is not served in that outcome – not because the rules are unnecessary, but because the coronavirus follows no rules of justice.
College is very different this year, but in one important respect it has not changed at all. Though I am currently 300 miles away from campus, I could never mistake this for summer break; the sudden influx of essays, term projects, and a few hundred pages of reading made clear when school began. In previous years, I used to go contra dancing every few weekends, which gave me something to look forward to during the long week. There were the apartment gatherings, Friendsgiving – practically a Furman tradition – Rabbit Fest and basketball games. This year, college is shaping up to be all work and none of the play. Can we really blame someone for slipping up?
We can, of course, and we must. Slipping up is understandable, but with lives on the line, "understandable” cannot mean “excusable.” In the meantime, there is no point in pretending the situation is anything but unfair. It simply is not fair that a bunch of 18- to 22-year-old's, gathered in a community for only four short years, should spend at least a quarter of that time forbidden to tear up a dance floor; watch a movie with friends; go to a football game; or make physical contact of any kind. We should acknowledge that fact. It is necessary – that much is plain – but it is not fair. There is an important difference there, and anyone who tries to say otherwise is letting the intoxicating power of LiveSafe anonymous reporting get to their head.