Over the course of the past semester, I have emailed students 17 times about COVID. As you take the time to study for finals, I thought I might refrain from inundating inboxes already overwhelmed with academic worries and, instead, utilize our incredible campus paper to say this: thank you.
I can tell you this: The “Animal House” stereotype is not the way you have approached COVID. Quite the opposite, in fact. You have demonstrated care and compassion for others and, in doing so, returned home in good health and as COVID exemplars who make our university and state very proud.
Let’s be honest, when you’re a Dean of Students to thousands of young adults at a state flagship university, you worry. A lot. But you also believe in the future and the power of youth to change it, because you’ve seen their character firsthand. It is mindful of this worry – yet buoyed by my faith in the younger generation – that UConn persevered and managed such a global challenge.
COVID is cruel. A virus that I naively compared to the flu in February has devastated our country and terrified our families as we worry every day about the health of our friends and loved ones. We have faced the inequities of the accessibility of health care, the hardship of economic crisis, and the fear for loved ones as they were diagnosed and, I pray, recovered.
At UConn, our student medical team has administered more than 40,000 COVID tests, total. Our residential, facilities, and dining operations have done heroic work decreasing housing occupancy, maintaining stringent cleaning standards, and finding ways for us to safely break bread together. Our faculty and staff have redesigned the learning experience to maintain our commitment to access to education even when we can’t all physically attend a traditional class. All of this work has been remarkably guided and supported through our state’s Department of Public Health and the local Eastern Highlands Health District, for which I am grateful.
Members of the UConn community have been warriors in ensuring that our students and others who visit our campuses locations are safe. Our exit testing results reflect this battle is real and our student’s actions have both mitigated against exposure and revealed when actions like gathering on a nice day –something we are all susceptible to- immediately jeopardize months of good health. COVID is real and can only be conquered by a willingness to care for others and observe universal precautions that keep us healthy and safe.
I have continually asked more and more of our students and staff throughout the fall semester, and am proud every day of how they have responded. Students and families have compromised their college experience to keep themselves and others safe. Basketball games have been replaced by quarantines. In place of hugs and high-fives, we now have masks.
As the battle continues into winter, what has become clear to me is how much we love each other and take actions that keep others safe – not just ourselves. Students left cmapus with experience and wisdom in what it takes to keep themselves and their communities healthy: wearing masks, symptom monitoring, avoiding gatherings, keeping our distance – sometimes even from those we love the most.
As students, you have embraced UConn’s testing in all of its forms and willingly changed behavior for the safety of others. Your input and experience has been critical in helping us continually update our pandemic planning and response (and students are always welcome to be part of the weekly Dean’s Advisory Group to ensure you are consulted).
Eleanor JB Daugherty
UConn Dean of Students and
Associate Vice President for Student Affairs