Students Social Distancing/Wearing Masks

UT student walking to class while following the university's Covid-19 policies on Thursday, August 20, 2020.

Every generation only has a lifetime on this planet. There’s only so much time that each generation has to make an impact on the world and to leave it differently than they found it. Generation Z has a passion and urgency to address issues that plague this country that feels unique to previous generations. 

Our planet is dying. Racial and political disputes are causing murders at an unprecedented rate and with two Supreme Court seats opening very soon, the political tone of the nation’s ultimate jurisdiction will be set in stone for decades to come. Generation Z knows that, although beautiful in many ways, our society is broken and needs immediate change.

This column is going to be about little things that you can do to change the world for the better. As daunting and scary as it may seem, changing the world doesn’t necessarily have to mean altering the state of the Earth and all of the societies on it. Change could mean making your friend laugh when they need it most, buying an extra meal and giving it to a homeless person or volunteering your time and talents to help people in need. Everyone is capable of changing the world, and this column will serve as a list of ways to do just that.

Recently, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill was the first university to have to shut down on-campus operations because of the COVID-19 pandemic. UNC Chapel Hill’s shutdown was shortly followed by NC State and Eastern Carolina University, along with other universities in the UNC system. 

All of these schools had campus-wide mask mandates, social distancing requirements and intense cleaning regimes, yet they still had to move all classes online and send all the students out of on-campus housing. These closings are the result of COVID-19 clusters being formed at off-campus parties where students spread the virus in houses packed to the brim.

Universities around the nation received large amounts of criticism when they welcomed students back to their campuses this fall. However, in these cases the universities are not to blame for the downfall of on-campus operations. By going to parties and large social gatherings, students are recklessly and actively ignoring safety guidelines recommended by doctors or experts in the field. In doing so, they are not only jeopardizing their own health, but also the health of the entire student body, professors, custodial staff, dining employees and everyone in the surrounding area of their university. 

This is not a foreign issue to the University of Tennessee, as the Office of the Chancellor recently released a statement regarding a cluster formed by an off-campus gathering that took place last week. UT is not messing around when it comes to restricting these events; multiple students have been punished for hosting large group gatherings without enforcing safety procedures like masks and social distancing. UT is going to be the next UNC Chapel Hill if students don’t change their actions now.

The easiest way that you can change the world for the better is by not partying or hanging out with large groups of people, especially those you aren’t usually around. Instead, have a friend group of 5-10 people that you can hang out with throughout the semester. This way you can still have fun like you would at parties, but now in a controlled environment with a small group of friends where you won’t contract or spread the virus to a large population. You could also do group events through Zoom, online movie nights or any of the seemingly endless options for online entertainment.

By staying away from large groups of people, you have no idea just how many people’s worlds you are saving. You’re saving the campus dining worker’s world who’s only source of income would be immediately revoked if UT had to shut down on-campus operations like at UNC. You save the worlds of the kids and family members that rely on the paychecks of university employees in order to go to school, pay for food and keep their homes cool during the summer. 

On a larger scale, you’re keeping your own college campus functioning while still allowing for you to have that freedom and individualism that comes with being at college. You’re keeping local businesses and restaurants open, since most of them rely heavily on college students. You’re enabling freshmen to fall in love with the campus and seniors to say their proper goodbyes. I know partying is fun, and I know it’s hard to resist when there’s nobody telling you no, but sometimes the needs of others are more important than the wants of individuals. 

Change is necessary, and change is achievable, but not without a level of sacrifices. By not going to big parties or social events for two months, we can decrease the virus’s presence in Knoxville and have a normal spring semester where you can go to as many crowded house parties as you want. We can save the lives and well-being of those who work everyday to give us the best college experience possible. 

All that is needed is for each student to be mindful of the wellness of others and stay away from large groups of people. The time has come for the philosophy of “Vols help Vols” to mean something.

Columns and letters of The Daily Beacon are the views of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Beacon or the Beacon's editorial staff.

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