This letter to University of Virginia alumni and parents appears in a change.org petition. As of 11:00 p.m., March 18, it had racked up 1,769 signatures. — JAB
As students at the University of Virginia during a time of crisis, we are reaching out for alumni and parent support. Unfortunately, we are writing this letter anonymously because we have seen a violent backlash at the University toward people who speak up against COVID restrictions. As for Alumni, during your time at the University, voices that spoke in favor of freedom and the student experience did not receive the same treatment, and were likely hailed as leaders and protectors of the invaluable traditions that have been crucial aspects of student life here for generations. As for parents, you undoubtedly sent your child to this University under the impression that the principles stated above would be represented by our leaders, but we must apologize to the many parents of first years. This has been an abysmal year, and we can say first hand that the experience of first years has been worse than we could have ever imagined.
We request that alumni and parents lobby the University and administrators to govern the students based on the city and state mandates, as opposed to arbitrary rules made by administrators.
To summarize the current situation in Charlottesville, we can begin by commending the University for bringing students back. It was clearly the correct decision, as students and their families are perfectly capable of making their own choices. We returned to restrictions such as shrinking the size of social interactions, wearing masks, and practicing measures to reduce the spread of COVID. This all make sense, but somewhere along the way, science blended with politics and irrationality.
Students are not held to a special speed limit 10 mph less on Highway 29. Nor has there ever been a website for students to report other speeding students, although it would potentially reduce accidents in some capacity. In general, our society entrusts lawmaking to lawmakers, and enforcement to law enforcement, not school administrators.
Currently, we are operating with 6 person “social gatherings.” But one must have masks on (the University recommends 2), while also remaining 6 feet apart, even if outdoors. Can you try to imagine your 18-year-old self, coming off Zoom class to go outside and sit 6 feet apart from a couple of your friends, while wearing 2 masks? That resembles a surgery room or even a scene from Orwell’s 1984, not the environment where young people go to socialize during critical years of their development. It is a common saying amongst UVA alumni that “the most valuable experiences and lessons learned while in Charlottesville did not occur within a classroom,” but rather partaking in the countless opportunities that this University and community have to offer.
These current guidelines are simply unrealistic and contradictive. Businesses, including restaurants and bars, follow the Albemarle County and Virginia State guidelines, while students are governed by the University’s stricter rules. The University actually encourages students to report other students. This has created an extremely hostile environment on grounds, emboldening a divide amongst students, especially when the consequences for infractions could lead to suspension or removal from grounds, a potentially life changing ramification. This environment is one which clearly our founder or alumni would not support nor ever envision.
While cases spiked during January, that can be attributed to a number of internal and external factors such as students traveling to return from break, the decision to have in-person rush, and a regional rise in cases due to winter conditions. We bore the weight of this as students.
As we are drafting this on Monday, March 15, our average cases per day is 1. There has been a total of 23 cases in the last 7 days, with a positivity rate of 0.0017. That is 1.7 cases per every thousand. As a University that prides itself in science, why has nothing changed? UNC, a few hours south, is currently at a 25 person limit on in-person social gatherings. Is COVID more likely to affect Wahoos than Tar Heels? I doubt it.
At the bare minimum, students should be governed by the city of Charlottesville and the State of Virginia. This will not only eliminate confusion, but will also bring to a halt the indefensible degree of hostility from students towards their classmates. Students have already sacrificed a year and a half of college, which they will never get back. While everyone around the world has made inconceivable sacrifices and experienced significant loss, COVID has affected college students as much as anyone. Mental health, a tight job market, family financial troubles, losing loved ones, and the loss of learning from online school have been and will be incredibly significant in shaping our lives. While this virus does very little physical harm to the health of college-aged students, the ancillary effects have and will be significant.
Although the student voices advocating for basic choices and liberties have been shouted down due to the fear of the unwavering “cancel culture,” these sentiments are shared by many. It is time to end this. Our grounds resemble a dystopia, rather than one of the finest institutions in the US, known for fostering and educating exemplary leaders, thinkers, and collaborators. We were once extremely proud to be UVA students. Unfortunately, we cannot currently share that same sentiment, but there is hope.
We need alumni and parents to push back against the irrational, and frankly intolerable, guidelines which are currently tarnishing the culture and reputation of this University, while imposing enduring damage on every one of its students.
Please sign this online petition, email deans, and make your voice heard to help us influence the administration to follow state and local health guidelines and not create their own arbitrary set of rules.