Prabu David is the dean of the College of Communication Arts and Sciences.
Though our football season has been canceled, we have a new rival in town. As usual, we must protect our home turf by summoning the indomitable spirit that lives in Spartan stadium. It is believed that ancient Spartans were known for their intense team spirit and impenetrable defense, which was achieved by soldiers who quickly stepped in to fill gaps and weaknesses in their storied phalanx.
Similarly, today’s Spartans can beat COVID-19 through a strong defense in which our students play a major part. I believe this generation of Spartans, who care deeply about social justice, can make a difference by shielding the most vulnerable members of our community by taking essential precautions.
Though the cherished rites of fall, so integral to the college experience, have been suspended or gone virtual, the pandemic continues to grow and the possibility of a major outbreak in our community is very real. As thousands of students arrive in East Lansing after months of social distancing, their desire to connect with friends is understandable.
These social interactions, which form the bedrock of the college experience, are an integral part of the metamorphosis from adolescence into young adulthood. This year, though, we must use our imagination and creativity to simulate this communal experience while maintaining safe physical distance and keeping alcohol use in check.
Close interactions in parties remain a key source of transmission and there is no room for compromises when it comes to face coverings, distancing or practicing hygiene. Large gatherings and irresponsible alcohol use can upend our fall semester and our success depends on how our students respond.
We should be encouraged by research findings of increasing restraint and responsibility in alcohol use among Spartans. Perhaps the most heartening finding is that students are “watching out for one another,” according to Dennis Martell, health promotion director at Olin Student Health Center. In one study, approximately 60% of MSU students reported that they rely on their friends to let them know when they have had enough to drink.
We should rely on our friends and draw from the strength of “students helping students” and “students helping our community” to fortify our defenses. We must designate peers who are trained and tasked with influencing partiers to conform to safe practices in social gatherings. Training and activating a large number of student leaders and influencers is likely our best option to exert peer pressure and keep our defense intact.
The other weapon in our fight against the virus is regular self-monitoring. Our community compact states that all members of our community are expected to quarantine or isolate, should they experience symptoms of COVID-19. This requires self-reporting of fever and symptoms and voluntary participation in the MSU COVID-19 Community Protection Program, where a simple spit test could help keep our campus safe. Reporting of symptoms or testing positive will no doubt cause inconvenience, limiting movement and choice. Yet, this generosity can keep our community safe.
In the weeks ahead, more transparency on testing and tracing is needed to build confidence and trust in our response. Additional care must be given to members of minority communities who have been disproportionately harmed by the pandemic. To earn trust and encourage participation in self-monitoring and testing, we cannot tolerate shame or stigma associated with a positive test. We must also commit to taking care of all members of our community who test positive.
As individuals, our grace and flexibility will be the gift that we can offer as we embark on the biggest social experiment in the history of our institution. Further, against the backdrop of a contentious national election and racial tensions, our unity will be tested. Despite our differences, we must draw strength from our common identity as Spartans. Instead of rooting from the stands, this year, we get to suit up and join the Spartan phalanx. Together We Will.
This story was originally featured on the College of Communication Arts and Sciences website.