Life right now can feel like a big experiment. Certainly, life on campus does. Whether you’re standing six feet apart in the DeCafé line or sitting on the quad, distanced from your friends — it all seems a little dystopian.
It feels like a giant experiment because it is — no one knows what’s going to happen. So far, our version of the experiment is going rather well. At the time of publication, the initial and most recent data shows just 0.23 percent of Oberlin’s campus tested positive for COVID-19. We are grateful that the College has developed a plan that works to prioritize health and safety, and we trust that students are doing their part as well — making sacrifices and readjusting to the new campus culture and experience.
This summer, every administrator, faculty, and staff member dedicated themselves to creating a campus that could work. The task set before them was monumental, and they responded with grit and innovation. As the students that fill this campus, it is our turn to see if we can safely live within it together. The College’s ObieSafe agreement and Student Senate’s ObieReal guidelines provide vital frameworks for adapting to 2020’s unique realities.
But really, the truth is this: There may be a world in which you can put roughly 1,900 students on a college campus in Oberlin, Ohio, during the COVID-19 pandemic and it works. There also may not be. There are too many variables this year to trust in guarantees.
The College is taking an immense risk by bringing us here, and on-campus students are assuming responsibility for that risk by attending in-person classes and by moving to Oberlin. That risk is incurred by the larger community, too. While we have faith that Obies are taking the responsibility we owe to the entire community seriously, it’s a heavy burden to bear. In deciding if the fall semester should be in-person, we got our vote: Most students got to decide whether they would come to campus. The surrounding community did not get a vote, and our presence here, or lack thereof, greatly affects this town either way.
Downtown businesses suffer when students are away, which we saw in this past spring and summer, but the community could also suffer because we are back. There are members of our campus and local community who are at-risk to COVID-19. By being here, we are putting them in a precarious position, and we owe it to them to work toward a version of the world where they are safe.
We don’t yet know if this grand experiment can work anywhere, but we believe that if anyone can make it happen, it’s Obies. Our care for our community and our commitment to accountability makes us strong. We are a small community, and that in many ways uniquely prepares us to navigate this year.
We owe it to each other and to the broader Oberlin community to do our utmost. Our success this year is not measured by whether the campus stays open. Success this year would mean protecting one another to the absolute best of our ability — even if that comes to mean shutting the campus down. Students, faculty, and staff on-campus are here because we believe this is worth trying.
Oberlin students, in all sorts of ways, are always working to hold each other accountable. We hold each other accountable to be better people, to fight for a more equitable world, and to put our money where our mouths are. It’s one of the reasons a lot of us came to Oberlin in the first place: to grow and learn in an environment where we are constantly challenged to be better and make the world better. That commitment might be just what it takes to save us if we do it right.