Staff and student leaders are aiming to educate and support students as they adapt to changes in college life this academic year during the coronavirus pandemic. With the second week of the semester wrapping up, there are important reminders and considerations that students should be following to have a safe and enjoyable semester and to help their fellow Bengals do the same.
Achieving this goal starts with personal awareness and responsibility. While some changes like the bright orange barricades in the Student Union Plaza are more noticeable, self-advocacy is a less obvious adjustment that will be especially important for students this year, according to Dean of Students Sarah Young.
“One of the things that I think students forget to do sometimes is figure out how to ask for what they need,” she said. “Little things like that are probably the overlying theme of some of the not-so-obvious bigger changes that I would stress for students.”
Though it may seem contrary on its face, Young said, self-advocacy is the opposite of having an individualist mindset. By speaking up, students can help meet not only their own needs, but also the needs of others who share similar concerns.
“Advocating for yourself is advocating for your community,” Young said. “And if people see how those two things are merged, they’ll understand how remaining healthy can only better the community effort to remain healthy.”
Another step students can take to protect themselves and others is to fill out the Daily Symptom Tracker (PDF, 223 KB) through the Weigel Wellness Center. The center will follow up with individuals who have symptomatic indicators, and students can also contact Weigel directly if they suspect they are ill.
One of the greatest measures students must take in supporting others is to remain mindful of how individual actions can affect the larger population, as confirmed by United Students Government (USG) President Jennifer Mauk. While she admitted to missing the opportunities for socialization and large gatherings that would normally coincide with campus life, Mauk emphasized the importance of cooperative efforts in preventing the spread of illnesses, especially with the approach of cold and flu season in addition to coronavirus.
“As a student, I would love to get back to normal; I’d love to see the campus in full swing. But that can’t happen until the guidelines are followed.”
“When we talk about this semester, there’s been a lot of, ‘Oh, this is awful; this is not how I wanted it to go.’ But if you’re not wearing a mask or social distancing, it will continue to be like this,” Mauk said. “As a student, I would love to get back to normal; I’d love to see the campus in full swing. But that can’t happen until the guidelines are followed.”
The college has been encouraging students to follow necessary safety measures, especially as COVID cases rise across other SUNY campuses. On September 3, Timothy Gordon, vice president for student affairs, issued a campuswide e-mail reminding students to take proper precautions. While the message served to advise students to stay safe over Labor Day weekend, Gordon also included tips that should be practiced throughout the school year, such as wearing a mask, monitoring personal health, limiting interactions, and taking care of each other.
“I know being socially distant is not always easy,” Gordon wrote. “Let’s stay focused on supporting each other, and the fact that we all represent something greater. Although there have been examples of peers on other campuses not succeeding, that is not the Bengal way.”
Arguably the most widely promoted community effort reinforced throughout the nation this year has been the importance of wearing a proper face covering. For students who were unable to obtain a free personal protective equipment (PPE) kit during the first week of the fall semester, there are still kits available at specific locations on campus.
These locations include the Dean of Students Office, Campbell Student Union 311; the Graduate School, Cleveland Hall 204; and the first floor hallways of the Science and Mathematics Complex (SAMC), Upton Hall, and the Technology Building. Additionally, health ambassadors will continue to distribute information and PPE kits outside the Campbell Student Union.
While the college provides necessary resources and information, accountability is essential to promoting a safe campus environment. If individuals are either wearing face coverings improperly or refusing to wear them at all, positive reinforcement, as opposed to reprimanding, is essential to creating a united environment, Young explained.
“We want to be sure to educate students and really have a conversation where we’re not attacking people,” she said. “We are all just trying to be thoughtful and caring about how we respond to people who may not be following the rules or social distancing as much as we might like.”
In promoting a safe and respectful environment, Mauk explained the importance of networking with other students as well as faculty and staff members, to help overcome challenges. In addition to seeking support, students can also remain socially active in campus life through safe and virtual means, like Live in the Plaza and by attending virtual USG meetings.
“Being a college student right now is by no means easy, and no one expects it to be,” Mauk said. “None of the administration, the faculty, or staff are expecting you to navigate campus with full abilities and full capability for the entire semester. Keep in mind that wearing masks and social distancing are important, but be sure to make the most out of what you can.”
Photo by Bruce Fox, Campus Photographer