How are you? I hope you’re safe in the middle of this pandemic. I guess it would be difficult for a skeleton to catch the virus, though. It’s a fortunate time to be an immortal spirit, eh? As for the rest of us mortals, this pandemic has changed our lives completely. Traveling, socializing with loved ones and even simple acts like going to the mall have become risky. You would think that the U.S., given plenty of warning, time and resources to prepare, would have controlled the virus by now, but sadly, it remains the worst-hit country in the world. However, I am not here to complain about the current administration’s handling of the pandemic. Unfortunately, I am here because I have a bone to pick with you.
You see, Dooley, I — and I think I speak for most students at Emory as well — have missed you a lot. Despite that, I don’t feel like it’s the right time to return to campus. Don’t misunderstand me; leaving early in the spring was challenging, and almost nobody wanted to do so. However, you decided it was best that we part ways, at least until the pandemic became manageable. The situation now is much worse than when we left, though. The U.S. just recorded an all-time high of nearly 70,000 cases in a single day. A week ago, the country’s leading expert on infectious diseases and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, predicted that this number could go as high as 100,000 cases a day, and each passing day proves that he may be very right.
Our very own state of Georgia has become a newly minted hot spot, recently shattering its own single-day incidence record after adding roughly 4,500 cases to its tally. Atlanta alone accounted for over half of those. But the buck doesn’t stop there. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp continues to actively sabotage any attempts to protect the public from COVID-19, refusing to take a firm stance on a public mask mandate.
While I am confident that these safety measures would be enforced diligently with your leadership and the cooperation of Emory students, faculty and staff, we must also recognize that Emory does not exist in a bubble. We cannot isolate ourselves enough, nor can we force or expect all students to be disciplined enough to do so. There is simply too much uncertainty and improbability. This, alongside Atlanta’s status as a COVID-19 epicenter, makes an outbreak on campus almost inevitable.
I also think that, despite your great wisdom, you may have overlooked the related plight of international students. You see, Dooley, as an international student myself, I have become painfully aware of the numerous travel restrictions that could make returning to campus prohibitively difficult. Hundreds of students will have to jump through loopholes; some may even need to fly to a third country, self-quarantine there for 14 days and then fly into the U.S. to resume their studies. And, if a severe outbreak occurs on campus and we’re asked to return home, many of us would once again find this impossible as many countries currently prohibit inbound flights from the U.S.
These are just some of the reasons why I request you reconsider your reopening decision, Dooley. Most if not all of these issues can be addressed by simply switching to a fully remote learning experience.
“But Aayush, that might affect people’s mental health, as staying at home with little social interaction may be emotionally upsetting,” you might argue.
Yes, Dooley, that is a valid point. There is no perfect decision for this situation. However, returning to campus would put everyone’s health in great danger by inevitably causing exposure to a potentially deadly virus. Emory has a fantastic network of resources available at its disposal and can continue to make facilities like Counseling and Psychological Services available remotely for students who may require guidance. Additionally, events that wouldn’t be possible on campus due to social distancing guidelines like virtual concerts, guest speakers and online game competitions can be hosted online to still provide community interaction. And of course, a few visits from you would be extremely welcome too! Ultimately, I think we can agree that the safety of the Emory community should be the number one priority, and reopening in the middle of an escalating pandemic just doesn’t seem to fit the bill.
Interim Provost Jan Love told the Wheel “We know that people will get sick, we can’t bring this number of people together without somebody being sick.” Sorry Dooley, but that’s irresponsible, insensitive, unprofessional and simply not good enough. You can, and you must, do better. There is a perfectly easy way to ensure students don’t get sick: close the campus.
An online model would not endanger anyone’s physical health, and Emory’s extensive resources can help students struggling with mental health. It is not unlikely that Emory’s student healthcare system may become overwhelmed in the case of a COVID-19 outbreak on campus, and thus, students might be comparatively safer in their home countries. This move would also allow students to retain both secure educational futures in the U.S. and the ability to return to you safely at a later semester. While many of us will not find it easy — due to a lot of late-night classes and navigating punishing time differences — it seems better than the alternative: risking the lives of all Emory students, faculty and staff. Students should not have to choose between their education and their health. It is my request to you, dear Dooley, the wise spirit of Emory, to please take Emory fully online this fall.
As I write you this letter, I am reminded of your own words:
“Presidents may come, presidents may go; professors may come, professors may go; students may come, students may go; but Dooley goes on forever!”
The spirit of Dooley is eternal. It is with us, always, in our work, in our minds and in our hearts. Even when we’re not all physically together, we remain bonded by our shared love of Dooley and Emory.
I hope to see you soon and in happier times.
A humble student.
Aayush Gupta (22B) is from Singapore.
Update (7/14/2020 at 9:28 p.m.): A previous version of this article referenced U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) July 6, 2020 revisions to F-1 and M-1 visa regulations. As of July 14, 2020, ICE has rescinded those changes.