As I write this, it has been more than three weeks since Penn made its decision to shift all coursework online and evict students living on campus. I’m still in shock, and nearly every day of the past week has brought another major event in both the Penn community and my local community in Northern Virginia, where I am now.
Last month, I published a column criticizing Penn for its lack of transparency regarding the decisions it had been making in response to COVID-19. The column embodied my anxiety, frustration, and powerlessness over the uncertainty of our atmosphere, and as the past week has seen a number of updates from Penn, I feel as though my piece was reactionary and did not grant the administration enough credit. Of course, everything I wrote was based in fact, and a number of my concerns were echoed by many in the Penn community. Others, however, including the author of this Reddit post, rightly recognize that Penn’s actions are intended to help us, not harm us.
I think the coronavirus outbreak has exacerbated the “us versus them” mentality that many students have against the administration, an antagonistic mindset that I undoubtedly contribute to. But, if we want to return to campus in August safe and healthy (both physically and mentally), constantly being at odds with an administration that is forced to make unpopular decisions may not be productive. This is not to say that we should withhold criticism when it is due—a swift and united response from the Penn student body is what granted graduating seniors a postponed in-person commencement. However, as the reddit post suggests, before jumping to excoriate the administration, we ought to “try and understand the position they are in as well.”
That’s why, among all the chaos, I think it’s important to bring as much positive energy as possible to our community. Several of The Daily Pennsylvanian’s columns from the past few weeks have not let us down. This letter from Executive Editor and Wharton junior Ben Zhao reminds us that we are in control of our own narratives, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now. This piece from College first-year Alfredo Practicò highlights the importance of solidarity in the midst of this confusion, and this note from The Daily Pennsylvanian Editorial Board urges us to take our forced isolation as an opportunity to practice self care and combat Penn’s hypercompetitive culture.
In “A Servant to Servants,” poet Robert Frost notably wrote, “the best way out is always through.” Author John Green said he believes Frost, and added “the only way through is together.” Tragic though it is, the only way to emerge from these scary times is to live through them and make the most out of them. This means pursuing the interests and hobbies that you’ve sidelined over the years, and more importantly, reconnecting with old acquaintances and strengthening the relationships you’ve made in your lifetime.
We are in the midst of an unprecedented—and indefinite—crisis, and many of us find ourselves bored, with more time than ever before. So, take this setback as an opportunity to do the things you love with the people you love. Spend the next several months at home trying to do something that you’ve always wanted to do, yet never quite found the time for. Maybe you’ve always wanted to write a screenplay, or maybe you’ve always felt guilty about not playing the guitar that’s been sitting in your closet for five years.
Furthermore, think about the important people in your life. Maybe it’s been a while since you’ve reached out to an old friend from high school, or maybe you don’t know your little brother or sister as well as you should. For me, my newfound time at home will involve writing (both columns for the DP and personal pieces), documenting my quarantine on my father’s old Minolta X-370 from the ‘90s, and remotely playing the online version of The Settlers of Catan with my childhood best friends.
Humans are capable of unimaginable resilience, and no matter how bleak it looks, we can and will emerge stronger than before. But only hope and faith—in our institutions, but most importantly, in each other—can get us there. Of course, major life changes like this can cause or exacerbate trauma and other mental health concerns, so if you need to access mental health resources, know that CAPS is still operating, even from afar.
I truly believe that taking time for ourselves, pursuing our passions, and prioritizing the relationships we have in our physical and virtual spaces will guide us as we make our way through, and eventually out, of this era.
VARUN SARASWATHULA is a College sophomore from Herndon, V.A. studying the Biological Basis of Behavior and Healthcare Management. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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