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Less than four years ago, white supremacists and neo-Nazis converged on Charlottesville in what would become the most grotesque exhibition of far-right prejudice and bigotry in recent memory. The terror of Aug. 11 and 12, 2017 resurfaced Jan. 6 with immeasurable intensity as thousands of pro-Trump rioters stormed the nation’s Capitol in a baseless attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Frighteningly similar to the violence of the 2017 Unite the Right rally, the events of Jan. 6 have once again turned national attention towards Charlottesville — the community cited as the inspiration for a presidential campaign, yet nonetheless deemed unworthy of a presidential visit. Perhaps reflecting such dismissive attitudes, in a moment demanding strong condemnation, the University community was met with a disturbingly weak response from its leadership — a response that, for many, borders on silence.
Winter is an exciting time for most Americans, with many preparing for the bustle of the holiday season as early as the first weeks of November. This winter is particularly invigorating as millions of college students return home, communities continue to navigate the ever-changing landscape of a global pandemic and the nation recovers from the effects of a momentous presidential election. Indeed, this winter is undoubtedly a time of change. However, at least one thing remains constant — the persistent and increasing threat of COVID-19. As such, it is imperative that students recognize this threat — and the role they play in mitigating its effects — as we transition to life at home this winter.
Under ordinary circumstances, the fall proves to be a challenging time for college students. As the semester reaches its midpoint, they are inundated with the increasing demands of academic and extracurricular obligations. However, this is no ordinary season, with the stresses of a global pandemic — including the looming threats of quarantine, isolation and economic insecurity — compounding the preexisting strain that comes with a typical fall semester. Indeed, this year, students face unprecedented challenges — challenges that will inevitably impact their academic achievement. As such, the University has an obligation to recognize these extraordinary circumstances as they are — extraordinary — and, in doing so, protect students’ mental health as paramount to their success.
In the past month, students nationwide have watched institutions rush to implement plans that have resulted in massive spikes in COVID-19 cases, leading to widespread shutdowns and placing local communities at risk. However, many students and administrators continue to err by assuming that at the University, we are different. Here, students are encouraged by videos of our leaders and our peers that urge us toward the path of individual responsibility, and here students are constantly reminded of the foundation upon which this community is built — student self-governance.