“My roommate’s significant other tested positive for COVID. What do I do?”
That’s the first student text I received one morning. It was not the only one like it in the last few weeks. By that afternoon, I’d directed three students to get tested and self isolate until they knew the results. I met students in parking lots with groceries and cleaning supplies. I wanted to hug them as they cried and were scared. I joined them in being angry that “not everyone is being smart and now we are all suffering.” I made sure they had enough supplies to get through 48-72 hours until they had results. I thanked them for being responsible and honest. I assured them we are in this together, regardless of how long they might have to quarantine. I hoped against hope all tests would be negative. Thankfully, they were.
One day a student remarked, “Some of my friends partied in Chapel Hill. Do you think I should be tested? I didn’t go with them, but I’ve been around them. I just don’t know what we are supposed to do.”
Another pleaded, “Will some adult just tell us what the hell we’re supposed to do? Do we just get tested every day or something? Please tell us what to do!”
Our young people do not have fully developed frontal lobes and are forced into impossible situations of having to make life and death decisions in a global pandemic. Many do not feel they have proper information to make healthy, informed, safe decisions. They don’t know which adults and systems to trust. Others don’t even know where or how to get COVID tests. Some are fearful. Some are angry. Some are blissfully oblivious. Some are trusting “schools wouldn’t let us back if it weren’t safe, so I’m not worried about it.”
As campus faith leaders, we are doing everything we can to support, comfort and keep our students safe and healthy. We are honored they trust us. Yet, when their dorm halls are in isolation, we cannot take them groceries or care packages. And when they say, “I just want to go home, but I don’t want to expose my family in case I’m carrying, so I’m afraid to ask about going home,” our hearts break. There is no easy answer to any of this. And none of us has ever led in a pandemic. However, thousands of young people sharing housing, germs, dining halls, and all things college life feels like a cruise ship of COVID.
Countless conversations in the last 24 hours have included how much respect there is for UNC being transparent and swift to action once it became clear COVID is spreading quickly among students. For the sake of all students in North Carolina colleges and universities, we hope others will follow suit. This is a hot mess regardless, and nothing is worth the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff.
We belong to each other. And our young people deserve adults and systems with clear messages of trustworthy, consistent, comforting information. It is our moral obligation and their future depends on it.
With great hope and respect for science,
Rev. Ashley-Anne Masters, Co-Signed Rev. Jennifer Manis