A Lehigh undergraduate student recently said they are “living in fear” because they regularly observe friends, housemates, and acquaintances ignoring health and safety measures such as wearing masks, especially off campus. Another student stated they are “demoralized” after observing parties and large gatherings.
The purpose of this email is not to reprimand any individuals or groups of students. Rather, it is important to acknowledge, as demonstrated by these students’ experiences, that the vast majority of Lehigh students are doing everything they can to keep themselves and everyone around them safe, in hopes of eventually returning to a more “normal” campus life. It is equally important to recognize the frustration experienced by students who feel helpless to do much, if anything, in response to instances and ongoing patterns of potentially dangerous behavior.
This past weekend, both on- and off-campus parties or large gatherings were reported and the ones we were made aware of were quickly shut down. As a result, several students and student organizations have been placed on interim suspension and face the very real possibility of eviction from university housing, suspension, or even expulsion. The consequences are great because the stakes are high.
There are many examples of college students being unintentionally placed at risk of harm, or even death, due to underlying health conditions that are often unknown to friends, or even to themselves. We know there are Lehigh students with similar health conditions. Our students have also seen and experienced the effects of COVID-19 among their own family members and are disheartened by what they describe as “selfish” behavior. While most students recognize the inconveniences presented by the health and safety measures, they understand that their personal behavior helps keep themselves and the community—both Lehigh and South Bethlehem—safe.
There are also examples of students taking lead roles in transforming campus culture around COVID-19. Lehigh students have the potential to be the most prominent and effective voices in promoting positive behavior and holding the community accountable. Student Senate is currently working to organize a COVID-19 Community Council that will, in part, suggest solutions to ongoing issues such as those referenced above. In the meantime, it is important that we are fully committed in showing that we care for each other and the community.
We know the majority of students are invested. You wear masks when patronizing local establishments and don’t host or attend large gatherings. It’s imperative that all students equally and consistently join this effort.
These winter months are challenging. Gathering indoors safely is possible only in a more limited capacity. As we look to the spring—in anticipation of reduced and sustained lower COVID-19 numbers, along with increased vaccination rates—scenario planning is underway for increased in-person activities, both indoors and outdoors. We all look forward to this.
In the short-term, the isolation, frustration, and overall “COVID fatigue” we may experience by following these necessary health measures (such as delaying seeing family and friends until gathering outside is possible) can make us question if our efforts are really worth it. They are—we’ve seen time and again that when the protocols are followed, we see lower rates of infection. Beyond the importance to health and safety, doing the right thing when it’s difficult—the actions we take today and tomorrow—also ultimately define our community. Thank you for doing your part and for expecting the same from others.
Vice President for Student Affairs