I want to say, first, that I don’t want to be here.
I know that many students feel differently - that, whether for academic or social reasons, many of my peers not only want, but feel a need to be on campus. And we can debate forever over whether or not UK should have reopened, whether or not the reopening is a money grab by UK, whether or not UK students are an economic boon or a public health crisis for the city of Lexington, but all of those debates are rhetorical now. Because in point of actual fact, we are here. What matters now is that UK has reopened and we – each one of us – have a role to play moving forward.
Every aspect of the last four months – the planning, the arguments, the workstreams, the millions of dollars invested in testing, all of the time and energy and thought that’s gone into reopening – has been to get us to today. August 17, the first day of classes.
For so long, August 17 has been the goal, and now that we’re here, it would be easy to pat ourselves on the back and let our guard down. But this is not the time to relax our vigilance. If anything, now is the time to recommit ourselves to social distancing and health guidelines - because finishing the semester is the real challenge.
I don’t want to preach to you, students, about complying with the rules. I think that overemphasizing the role of the individual in maintaining a healthy community lets institutions like UK go unaccountable for forcing us into a reopening situation in the first place.
But I also recognize that the university can’t (or won’t) save us. At an institutional level, UK is not prepared to enforce social distancing or to control an outbreak on campus. The only person protecting you is yourself – and the person next to you.
And so, in the absence of institutional solutions, I am asking each of you to take personal responsibility for our safety on campus this semester.
The basic motivation for this is that following the safety standards saves lives. But lives, apparently, are not enough for some citizens of our country, so I feel compelled to add more reasons.
If, as many students feel, reopening is worth it, then students must commit to keeping us open. In-person instruction is supposed to last until November 24. If we are sent home before that, not only will we lose the on-campus life many students desire, but students are going to be blamed for the outbreak. Understand that when cases spike in the student body, people will say it’s our fault for not complying with the guidelines, and not UK’s fault for bringing 30,000 of us back to campus.
If we want to make it to November 24, then we have to measure every action against that goal and decide if it’s worth it.
Parties? Not worth it. Traveling for fun? Not worth it. Bars? Not worth it.
I know that this will be difficult, and that many students will feel disappointed and perhaps angry at being on campus if they can’t do the things they enjoy anymore.
I know that the reopening plans are confusing and that many of you have questions about COVID-19 protocol. I hope that our centerfold this week helps clear some things up.
I know that many of you are upset about online classes – that you have them, or that you don’t.
I know that, as editor of the Kentucky Kernel, I am supposed to be the voice of reason. I am supposed to say the right things, to calmly encourage social distancing, to provide hope that we can get through this together.
But personally, I want to run screaming into the woods and go completely feral. I can’t offer you much hope because I don’t have a lot of it myself.
All I am capable of is doing what I have to do to get to the next day. I’m hoping that I can keep this up for the next 99 days, until November 24.
I can’t get there alone. I need all of you, and you need me, if we’re going to make it. Individual action may not get us out of the pandemic, but it might get us through the semester. To give us a push in the right direction, here are a few reminders:
Masks are supposed to be worn when you are outside
Masks are supposed to go over your nose
Two people maximum in an elevator unless the occupants are family
Unless it’s a family emergency, try not to travel out of Lexington. Fall break was canceled for a reason. Frequent trips out of town or out of state are a risk not only to campus, but whoever you go visit.
If you test positive for COVID-19, first, I wish you a speedy recovery. And second, you are responsible for telling the contact tracer where you’ve been and for notifying your professors and classmates. Don’t lie because you’re embarrassed or hide something because it’s against the rules. And take it upon yourself to reach out to people you’ve been around; don’t wait for or expect the contact tracer to notify them first. It might be uncomfortable in the moment, but honesty is best in the long run.
Doing the right thing is hardest when no one is watching. So live every moment as if Eli Capilouto is standing behind you.
Remember that Lexington residents are going to be affected by your actions – many citizens are afraid of students because of the threat we pose. Remember, also, that just because we are young, we are not invincible. Neither are your professors, who may be older and terrified of you.
This isn’t your typical letter from the editor. But this isn’t the typical year. As important as journalism is to the campus community, health and safety is more important. And as abhorrent as I find the phrase “wear a mask so we can watch UK win a national championship” (because A. why do we have to barter to get people to wear masks and B. it’s disgusting that “win a national championship” is more convincing than “save a life”), I suppose that rhetoric is best judged by its effectiveness, not its palatability.
So wear a mask. Maybe we'll get to see UK win a national championship.