September 29, 2020

Mid-Pandemic, PC Has Reopened: What Happens Next Is up to Us

posted on: Thursday September 3, 2020

PC students cope with the changes and guidelines around campus.

by The Cowl Editorial Board, 2020-2021

Friars hold doors is a refrain commonly heard on the Providence College campus. Obviously, and as so many of us know from experience, it refers to the way that members of the PC community always seem so eager to hold the door for one another, even if it means standing there for an awkward amount of time while the person behind runs up to grab the door.

As cliché as it sometimes sounds, in a more serious sense, Friars hold doors speaks to the way that members of this community are always ready to lend a helping hand in a time of need. It speaks to the doors that this institution opens for its students and the doors that students are always opening for one another. At its core, Friars hold doors speaks to the spirit of community here at PC—to the love we have for one another and the obligation we feel towards each other as members of the Friar Family.

Now more than ever, we students must recommit ourselves to this community and this family.

For the past six months, teams of administrators, professors, staff members, and a number of students have worked tirelessly to put together a reopening plan for the College. On Aug. 31, after months of deliberation on if, when, and how we could operate in-person, PC reopened mid-pandemic and officially began a school year unlike any other in the College’s 103-year history. 

With this opening, the baton has been passed. Now, the fate of the school year rests almost entirely in students’ hands. The actions that we as a student body take—or choose not to take—in the coming weeks will determine what lies ahead not just for this academic year, but also for the College as a whole and for the Providence community at large, perhaps even for years to come.

With this extraordinary responsibility placed in our hands, we now must all work together in pursuit of one common goal: keep Providence College open. We have the ability to rise to the occasion, meet this challenge, and accomplish this goal. But it is going to take all of us, and it is going to take sacrifice. 

The enormity of this task is hard to grasp, especially because it is such an emotionally-charged one. Each person in our community is experiencing some kind of anxiety or grief right now, whether it be over the loss of a senior year, the isolation of being quarantined as a freshman in a new place, the loss of a job or family home, or, worst of all, the loss of a friend or family member. Regardless of individual circumstance, each of us in the student body is missing out on the college experience we expected and hoped to have this semester. It is not easy to come to terms with that disappointment or with the accompanying uncertainty.

While we need to come together first and foremost to ensure the physical health of everyone in our community, it is equally important that we unite to support one another in a mental health and emotional wellbeing capacity, as well. We must continue to show up for one another.

But if we were to separate ourselves for just one moment from the emotional complexity of these times, our charge comes down to this: we have a series of decisions to make in the coming weeks about what actions and activities we will engage in. And with every decision to be made, there is an accompanying list of pros and cons.

In the end, it is abundantly clear that what we stand to gain by following guidelines is so much greater than what we could gain from two weekends of partying. Even more so, what we stand to lose if we do not follow guidelines is far, far greater than what we lose by choosing not to go to that Eaton Street party.  

The negative consequences are clear: there have already been 17 suspensions of students, and there is a looming threat not just of individual punishments, but of the entire campus potentially having to revert once again to completely remote learning. But far and away, the most devastating and dangerous negative consequence that could result from our failure as students would be to our collective physical health. Here, the consequences  reach far beyond just the student body.

We must think not just of all the students living in close quarters who are likely to get sick. We must also keep in mind the staff and faculty members on our campus who go home to their families at the end of the day—people who might be bringing the virus home to young children, elderly parents, or immunocompromised family members. We must be mindful of our surrounding community: our local Providence neighbors, the people we live next to, who shop at the same grocery stores or ride the same buses as us.

The most dangerous outcome—an outbreak—would have far-reaching and devastating effects. We must remember that as a campus, we are part of a wider community, and we need to act accordingly.

But fear of the negative consequences should not be the only driving force behind our actions. We should also be motivated by the positive outcomes if we work together and follow the rules: the health and safety of our community, the chance to stay on campus this semester, the potential of a more ‘normal’-looking spring, a slow but steady reopening that enables us to get back to the College we know and love. If we can just stick it out, if we can make short-term sacrifices for long-term success, the potential for these positive outcomes could become a reality.

The questions we must ask ourselves, then, are not just the practical ones, like what is next for us, or what actions we need to take in the coming weeks. As PC students, we have been trained to ask the tough questions, too. We must ask ourselves: what do we owe our fellow students? What do we owe our teachers, our administrators? What do we owe the members of our community off-campus?

Now, we are called not just to ask these questions, but to answer them through our actions and choices in the coming weeks. 

Rising to meet this challenge—one unlike any the College has ever seen—is not just our responsibility as students. It is an opportunity for us to prove to those around us now and those who will look back on our generation in the years to come that in the face of uncertainty and fear, our commitment to each other as members of the Friar Family is what kept us safe, saw us through, and gave us hope.

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