Appreciating What We Have, Trying to Live Better Than We Did

Some of the students who arrived on campus this week had not set foot in Oberlin in months. Others had just completed spring semester and had only been away for nine days. But everyone arrived on a very different campus from the one that we left. On May 17, during the break between spring and summer semesters, the College announced that specific ObieSafe policies were loosened — effective immediately. The College now allows vaccinated students, faculty, and staff to enter campus buildings and attend classes unmasked; leave the “Greater Cleveland area” as we please; and no longer requires us to be tested each month.

Along with over 81 percent of Oberlin’s student body, this editorial board has the privilege of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19. This means that we can now walk into our office and work together without masks on. We can invite our friends into our homes, embrace them, and share a meal. If we’re feeling adventurous, we can hop back on Tinder. Arriving onto a campus that allowed these formerly mundane, but now so intensely missed activities was jarring for most. It feels deeply surreal, but also properly wonderful. 

We longed for a college experience that included these types of connections. And now, because Oberlin exists in its own little bubble, we have it. After a year of feeling like we had to put our college lives on hold, we’re grateful for the bubble. But, crucially, we are grateful because we know that the bubble is such a privilege.

Just outside our liberal arts limits, others are still living in a pandemic. While Oberlin is fortunate to have great access to the vaccine, the same cannot be said all over the world. Just 10 countries possess around 75 percent of the world’s COVID-19 vaccines — with the U.S. included in that number. If we continue along the path we are currently on, it’s estimated that low- and middle-income countries won’t have access to adequate supplies of vaccines until at least 2023 — all while the U.S. will have over half a billion extra doses.

Even within the U.S., there are many people who have yet to be vaccinated — for a multitude of reasons. In low-income communities, and on many Indigenous reservations, there are reports of limited access to inoculation. Additionally, many unvaccinated people are mistrustful of the government and the medical industry for valid reasons. People from low-income communities have seen their medical care neglected by the government for decades. For Black Americans, it can feel especially risky to trust the medical industry after years of Black people being used as test subjects such as in a 1932 Tuskegee study that intentionally withheld syphilis diagnosis from ill Black men for the sole purpose of seeing how the disease progressed untreated. Although the vaccine is safe, it is understandable that many people find themselves in doubt. It is a privilege to trust medicine. 

As we walk around an Oberlin that is blooming with both post-pandemic energy and summertime, we rightfully should revel in the gratitude that we feel. But reckoning how our lives feel now, with the broader context of suffering around the world is an overwhelming task. As Obies, we should continue to do what Obies do: fight to recognize and rectify the injustice that we live within. We should remember that we are privileged to live in this way. And at the end of the day, we should reflect on what we want this moment to mean for us and our community.

With any luck, there won’t be another pandemic during our college years. There aren’t a lot of moments that so clearly deprive us of everything we love and everything we take for granted. We get a second chance at college now that we know exactly what to be grateful for.

Walking through Tappan Square we can already see how much quicker Obies are to smile at each other in passing, how much more likely we are to help one another out in a pinch. Throughout the pandemic Obies have worked to keep our community running. Two student-led mutual aid organizations were founded this year, Oberlin People’s Assembly and the Coronavirus Oberlin Mutual Aid Fund; the Sexual Information Center staff worked to provide resources even over Zoom; and older students worked to integrate and support first-years as they adjusted to college in a pandemic. 

We have seen the best of Obies in a way we have not seen in a long time. From here, the goal should be appreciating what we have, and trying to live better than we did.