First-year students have enough to worry about as they try to make friends, adjust to Grounds and adapt to online classes. As a first year myself, all these stressors have been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. Moving onto Grounds was amazing — it was the first taste of socializing and freedom I had experienced since Virginia’s lockdown. But the excitement of starting the next four years of my life faded when my dorm — Balz-Dobie — underwent lockdown and testing. COVID-19 became a tangible reality for me and many of my peers, and my dorm was the first to experience it. However, the chaos and incrimination of my peers that followed was nothing short of surprising, and I urge all of my fellow first years to continue to respect one another, especially during the pandemic.
Last week, some Balz-Dobie residents reported their symptoms and after testing positive, alerted the rest of the students in our dorm. The next day, we received an emergency email telling us to return to our rooms for dorm-wide testing. Everything went smoothly, and we stayed in isolation until we received the results the next night — with 10 additional cases.
It is terrific that students in my dorm took the initiative and personal responsibility to tell us that they were symptomatic, exposed or tested positive. It is always better to be informed of potential cases on Grounds. Unfortunately, I saw the subsequent stress that befell the rest of the Balz-Dobie population. While we all knew infection was a possibility, it was nerve-wracking and surreal to see our friends getting sick, and even our own health in potential danger.
However, I was not prepared for the controversy that followed the lockdown of Balz-Dobie and the ten new positive cases. My friends and classmates within my dorm and across Grounds turned on each other, looking for someone to blame for the potential outbreak. Students shamed, threatened and blamed those with positive results through group chats and social media. The egregious behavior of my peers sickened and baffled me. We should not shame individuals for being sick, but instead identify and report reckless conduct. The last thing we should be doing is turning on each other.
If we continue with the unproductive condemnation of those who tested positive, students will fear retribution for informing others. If they are symptomatic, they might keep their symptoms to themselves for fear of judgment. They may hesitate on whether to share a positive test result with those in their dorm or who they have had close contact with. Shaming after the fact will not help anyone, because students will be less inclined to support contact tracing efforts. Instead, we should report egregious incidents as they happen, such as noncompliant parties or students inside of a dorm that is not theirs.
The problem doesn’t necessarily lie with students, but rather with the University’s administration of COVID-19 guidance. I have seen varying rules across different dorm associations regarding wearing masks in others’ rooms, or whether you should have masks on in your own room when the door is open. Discrepancies among rules are confusing, unproductive and don’t keep us safe. Additionally, I have witnessed crowds at O’Hill dining hall and large church gatherings every Sunday that are not helping.
In Balz-Dobie, I did not personally witness any rule-breaking behavior. However, there is a difference between breaking the rules and being irresponsible. Some activities, while not against distancing and masking rules, are purely irresponsible. For example, small dorm parties are not against established COVID-19 guidelines, but are highly susceptible to spreading COVID-19 due to students huddling in a small room sharing drinks or drugs. There should be clear rules that prohibit events capable of spreading the disease, such as these small dorm parties. I advise my fellow peers to exercise caution and consideration because the risks to yourself, your peers and the Charlottesville community are very real.
First years need to work together, instead of tearing each other down. The onus is on the University to provide responsible, clear rules, but we should also be responsible and respectful of each other. Wear your mask, socially distance and above all — treat one another as you would like to be treated, for we are all part of the Virginia community.
Nicole Chebili is a Viewpoint Writer for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.