As COVID-19 Brings Fear, Disruption, Obies Rally to Support Community

 This is an uncertain, difficult, and frightening time. Every member of our community is scrambling to make sense of the necessary yet difficult decisions that have been made by College administrators. This is not easy, and it’s okay to be scared. At a time when many of the members of our community are sharing anxieties — and holding close their friends and family members — the most important thing that we can do is support and take care of one another. 

Much like our peer institutions, the College is following protocols and best practices that public health and other government officials have developed to mitigate the expansion of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, in deciding to cancel classes, send students home, and shift to a remote campus model. Moving forward, the Review will not publish in print for any duration of time that Oberlin operates as a remote campus. We will publish online on a rolling basis instead of our regular Friday schedule, so check our website regularly for updates. 

While some students have expressed reasonable frustration with the decision, the short timeframe with which students are being expected to vacate College housing, and the detrimental impact that the decision will have on organizing in support of the United Automobile Workers union, it is clear to us — from all angles — that this was the right call to make. 

Studies show that “social distancing” is effective in mitigating the spread of diseases in general, and is a recommended practice to help contain spread of COVID-19. For Oberlin, this means preparing to shift to a remote campus. Although these are serious measures, we firmly believe that Oberlin and other institutions are making the right choice in taking these precautions. The College must protect all of Oberlin’s residents, even if that means disrupting our regular lives. Certainly, the transition won’t be smooth and it will create steep challenges for many students — but it’s difficult to imagine navigating a global pandemic seamlessly.

Another important factor we must consider in the College’s decision to shift to a remote campus is the threat that a COVID-19 outbreak on campus could pose to the broader Oberlin community. The town would likely struggle to support an outbreak of the virus at such a scale. An outbreak of such a contagious virus would almost certainly stretch the resources of the College, local health care providers, and the city past their capacity. While it’s true that sending students to their homes across the country is also a difficult choice that poses other risks, the College has had to balance these concerns against one another. The fact remains that Oberlin simply does not have the infrastructure to manage such an outbreak. With students living in tight quarters in dorms and coming into contact with hundreds of other people every day, allowing an outbreak to occur would be irresponsible. 

Currently, the College is working swiftly to move students off campus earlier than they originally anticipated. At the time of publication, the process for students petitioning to remain in on-campus housing has not been fully revealed. While we understand the need for the College to prioritize social distancing, we would also urge administrators to protect international students and other vulnerable groups by ensuring that they are provided housing. 

As students, faculty, and staff members consider the uncertain future of our education and community, we recognize those who are working to respond to this upheaval in the best ways possible. Faculty have been presented with the unique challenge to develop new, innovative classes in the second module in an incredibly short time frame. We applaud them for their dedication to our education. 

Similarly, students have drawn together to support each other in inspiring ways. This weekend, while students rush to pack up their belongings, they are also planning rides to drive early voters to the polls this weekend. Most impressively, students have organized a mutual aid Google sheet to provide housing, transportation, food, storage, mental health support, and other assistance to students in need. These are the acts of kindness and generosity that will help pull us through this moment. 

Lastly, to the graduating students who may have to say goodbye to this home far too early — this College is a stronger community because of your contributions to it. This graduating class has seen many challenging moments throughout their College careers — from the Gibson’s protests their first year to the Academic and Administrative Program Review and the One Oberlin process, and ending with the disruptions caused by COVID-19. Throughout all of these challenges, these students have remained committed to the values that brought them into this institution. 

We are reminded at this moment of our first editorial of the academic year, when we were struck by the remarkable consistency, focus, and compassion that Obies displayed throughout what was a challenging summer (“In Face of Adversity, Obies Keep On Keepin’ On,” Sept. 6, 2019). Even as we stare down one of the most significant global public health crises of our lives, we trust that this class, as well as returning students, will carry that same strength and dedication that they have shown throughout their years at Oberlin — and the bonds that they have forged here — into the world.