Don’t be the reason someone gets COVID-19

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Media: Christine Park

I need to know that, when the lives of people with disabilities are placed in students’ hands, students will do everything in their power to keep those of us with disabilities—visible or not—safe.

Around this time each year since I officially entered Emerson, I’ve always found myself coming to campus with a certain worry. 

As an incoming first-year student two years ago, my biggest concern was if students and faculty thought I was odd for having Tourette syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes people to have tics. This time last year, I feared the fact that one of my moms was dying of cancer. Now, my greatest worry is for my friends and favorite professors as I wonder which of them will suffer from—and maybe even die from—COVID-19. 

It didn’t have to be this way. Colleges with large endowments, like Harvard University, have the luxury of making the fall semester online-only, without the financial ramifications that smaller schools like Emerson would face. Those colleges may struggle during the pandemic, but they’ll survive. Although Emerson has not said it outright, I suspect our administrators didn’t have the option of making the fall semester online-only because they rely heavily on tuition and room and board dollars, with 89 percent of its revenue coming from tuition in 2019.

Emerson projects financial losses between $33 and $76 million in the next year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If students don’t return to campus, Emerson will lose money due to the lack of housing payments, while still paying operational costs. 

President M. Lee Pelton and his team had to make a difficult choice: figure out a way to bring students back to campus safely in the fall, or face the possibility of a financial loss that could crush the college. 

We choose information accessibility

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At Emerson, we’re a community. There are people in our community who have illnesses or conditions that make them more susceptible to COVID-19. Disabilities are often invisible. My Tourette’s is pretty obvious—if you interact with me for more than a few minutes, you’ll notice my tics. But what you can’t see when you look at me is that I was also born with two different chronic illnesses that weaken my immune system. If I get COVID-19, I could end up in the intensive care unit or die. I made the difficult decision to learn online from home this fall. 

The administrators, faculty, and staff at Emerson have put together a strong plan for the fall semester that can keep students, faculty, and staff safe. The keyword in that sentence, though, is can. 

The plan’s success depends on Emerson community members doing the right thing 100 percent of the time, even when no one is watching. It is imperative that all of us follow the guidelines and rules set in place by the school’s administration. That means wearing a mask at all times unless you are alone in your dorm room, going to the weekly mandatory screenings, and practicing social distancing. These actions aren’t about keeping you safe—they’re about keeping all of us safe. I need to know that, when the lives of people with disabilities are placed in students’ hands, students will do everything in their power to keep those of us with disabilities—visible or not—safe.

There are others like me at Emerson. You may not see our vulnerability to COVID-19, but trust me, it’s there. All around you, there are professors who take immunosuppressants for arthritis, staff members with asthma, students with cystic fibrosis, and several other cases. The only thing we have to keep us safe is you. Students and faculty with disabilities are putting our lives in your hands. I don’t want to have to attend Zoom funerals for my friends, my professors, or the staff members who make life at Emerson so incredible. I don’t want to sit in front of my laptop and read about a fellow classmate who has been infected with or even died from the virus. It’s time to see our community unite and fight against COVID-19. 

Promise me you won’t take your mask off, and promise me you’ll keep yourself from hooking up with people on campus this semester. Promise me you’ll wash your hands and stay six feet away from other people. 

Promise me you won’t be the reason why someone at Emerson dies of COVID-19.