Zou: Asking for flexibility in time of crisis

Emily Zou, Op-Ed Contributor

Northwestern should allow students to learn remotely this quarter through hybrid classes. I’m asking for the school to actively work with and listen to students, ensuring that these next weeks are safer for all members of the NU community. Everyone is in a unique position right now; here are some reasons why I am worried. 

My mom was bedridden during my little brother’s in-house birthday party last year. She’d just gotten a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and we knew that the side effects were going to be rough. She’s immunocompromised after years of chemotherapy. I remember making the hour-long drive with her to get the vaccine because of how afraid she was, and jokingly telling her not to be an anti-vaxxer. Later that day, she was unable to stand. Driving to pick up my brother’s cake, I can still recall the ugly blend of fear and guilt that had settled somewhere in my stomach. Having a sick parent is a uniquely soul-crushing experience. 

These past few weeks have been tumultuous and uncertain for everyone. With one eye, we can all see the steady rise in cases but the other sees our leaders telling us to resume life as normal. The familiar blue graph that pops up when googling “covid cases” is maybe the only thing that makes me feel like I’m not crazy for being anxious; there were about 3,345 cases in Evanston this time last year, but we just reported about 9,342 new cases. And while yes, vaccines and boosters have helped tremendously with COVID-19 symptoms, Illinois hit a pandemic-high of 7,380 hospitalizations this week. Am I wrong for saying things are worse? 

While American structures fail, I’m worried about my family’s. My little sister is only nine, my Dad is the breadwinner in my family and works full-time and all of our extended family lives in China. During the weeks when my mom recovered from the side effects of the vaccine, for the first time in my life as an adult, I realized how crucial it is to have someone who can drive a car, someone who has a bank account and someone who picks up prescriptions. When my mom was actively battling cancer, I couldn’t do any of those things. Now I can, and the responsibility is something I can’t shirk.

Even so, while my situation is stressful enough, I know it would be even worse without my financial privilege. I’m not writing about this to make anyone who actually reads this far to feel sorry for me or inviting anyone to explain that others have it worse. The pandemic has far-reaching effects in every aspect of our lives, and depending on where we were before, it will change and impact us differently. In this vein, I empathize with those that have to be on campus, who need to prioritize their mental-health, who can’t shelter in place at home and who require the resources that campus offers. 

It’s disheartening to see so many people make preliminary peace with the deaths of the unvaccinated and immunocompromised. Many people who flaunt their own good health often disregard the potential for “Long COVID,” which affects about one in 10 COVID-19 patients. As a result, actually getting COVID-19 is just one negative impact amongst a litany of issues that result when so many people are getting sick. The pandemic has effects not just on individual people, but on our collective systems. 

NU is not just composed of students and professors. Our school would not function without the work of dining hall staff, library workers, janitors and so many more people that will be affected by whatever policies the school puts forth. With increased foot traffic on campus when in-person classes resume, there’s going to be many more places and instances for infection. Being healthy becomes a requirement to be at NU.

There are inevitable social gatherings that are being held even right now with nearly no preventative measures from administration. Yes, it’s very hard to tell college students not to party and to actually enforce it, but this is also putting other students’ health at risk. While writing this, I’m emphasizing every person’s unique circumstances, but that also means that many students, especially at a school that, income-wise, enrolls more students from the top 1% than the entire bottom 40%, are able to continue with their lives largely financially unaffected by the pandemic. This pandemic is testing our ability to live not just for ourselves, and many of us seem to be failing.

I’m not a public health or policy professional, but I think it’s safe to say that students will test positive throughout this quarter, and that there should be a virtual option in place for them to keep up with their classes. If this virtual option is offered, then I don’t see any reason why all students shouldn’t have the option to finish this quarter virtually. 

There are many students in situations in which being on campus causes more harm than good. The most insulting part is that the school assumes that getting everyone back on campus is in our best interest, a decision they made without actually asking the people their policies would affect. Setting forth a blanket policy in such unprecedented and uncertain times is a move that I don’t quite understand; this is a time that requires flexibility. We’re all responding to this crisis in the best way that we can, and surviving looks different for everyone.

I’m hoping the University will implement a virtual option, but even in the unlikely event that it is given to us, communication from administration throughout this crisis has been decidedly lackluster. The criteria that guides decisions the University makes were never shared with the people these decisions affect. Emails that were sent to students contained little useful information, simultaneously highlighting the highest positivity-rate seen on campus while alluding to vague promises of returning back to campus. I would appreciate to see the administration at least act like they care about our health and wellbeing. 

These past few weeks have been some of the most stressful ones of my life. I feel abandoned by my leaders and scared for my family. I worry that how I feel is wrong and that I might be crazy or overly-anxious. 

After finishing a game of Valorant a few days ago, one of my opponents typed in chat, “Shut down Los Angeles United School District Schools … make them move us to online they are getting us sick, GG don’t go to school.” While the measures that students are turning to to advocate for their own safety is depressing, it was oddly assuring to be reminded that I’m not the only one who’s angry and distressed over our current situation. Remembering our strength in community is maybe one of the only things we can do right now. 

Emily Zou is a Weinberg second-year. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.