Op-Ed: Who is really to blame for the outbreak?

Wednesday, October 28, 2020 - 2:59pm

After the stay-in-place order went into effect Oct. 20, the University of Michigan made the New York Times. The “Leaders and Best” had contributed to a full-on outbreak of COVID-19 in Washtenaw County, and the undergraduate students were potentially to blame.

University President Mark Schlissel tried last week to completely absolve himself and the rest of the University administration of blame for the outbreak. I’m not surprised by the University’s unwillingness to admit responsibility for their failed reopening plans. According to them, it's neither the lack of testing and contact tracing nor the lack of enforcement of the arbitrary rules that they have created. It’s our — the undergraduates’ — fault, the same students who will end up paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to a university that doesn’t care. 

When the Graduate Employees’ Organization went on strike because the University refused to meet any of its demands, it was the students who suffered, graduate and undergraduate alike, when our classes were canceled. Once again, this stay-in-place order hurts the undergrads academically as our few remaining in-person classes have been moved entirely online. 

While undergrads acknowledge that we hold a lot of the responsibility for spreading the virus, it was the University that put us into an environment where we could not thrive or make the right decisions. Speaking anecdotally, I’ve suffered Zoom fatigue from weeks’ worth of virtual classes, constant stress over looming assignments and a frequent loss of focus after staring at my computer for hours. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I’ve made risky decisions to hang out with friends because I needed the social interaction to sustain my mental health.

The University has exempted student-athletes from the stay-in-place order because of their low percentage of positive cases. This is obviously because student-athletes are routinely tested asymptomatically. It is clear where the priorities of this administration lie — in the students that they can profit off of. If they can test our athletes, they can test the rest of our students. 

Other universities of similar capacity, like the University of Illinois, have tested their students twice weekly since the start of school. If one can diagnose and monitor cases before they have a chance to infect others, the magnitude of community spread will be lower, as we have seen in student-athletes here at the University. As the best research institution in the country, it is embarrassing, to say the least, that only a small fraction of the student body has had access to asymptomatic testing.

I love my school because of my supportive Graduate Student Instructors and amazing professors, and it’s whereI’ve met some of my very best friends. We are not the ones failing the University — the administration, specifically Schlissel, has failed us. We grew up in the wake of 9/11, the rise of school shootings and now, we are living through a pandemic. 

Standing up to this University’s administration isn’t going to intimidate us. It’s time to be vocal. Tell your professors how you feel. Contact Provost Susan M. Collins expressing your concern. We are past due for real, lasting change from the top down. Schlissel needs to go before his lack of leadership and incompetence drag us down with him. 

Sofia Terenzio is a sophomore in the College of Literature, Science & the Arts and can be reached at terenzio@umich.edu


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