This has been a hard time for all of us.

The 2020 Academic Year began with sweeping changes to the Gonzaga experience due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Large group events have been moved online or cancelled and maximum group sizes have been limited to just five people.

In addition to these limitations, GU experienced a scandal within its first two weeks of opening. The Instagram account @zagsunmasked sought to restore “safety” to campus by bullying students through posting pictures of them without masks on in their public feed. A war of words soon began between GU leadership and @zagsunmasked admins which ended in the latter ceasing all activities on their account.

While there is no justification for the way @zagsunmasked cyberbullied students on campus, their concern for safety was not misplaced. At the time of writing this (Monday morning), there were 28 cumulative cases of COVID-19 on campus, 4 of which have recovered from the virus. We have now entered a time where COVID on campus is no longer a theory but a reality.

Additionally, this virus has proven that it doesn’t just affect those who it infects. An email from Vice Provost for Student Affairs Kent Porterfield confirmed that for just seven confirmed cases of COVID-19, 47 close contacts were made to quarantine as well.

There are no official figures for how many people are currently in quarantine, but if we assume that the new positive cases don’t come from people currently in quarantine, proportionality will argue that nearly 190 close contacts are currently in quarantine.

What’s perhaps most terrifying about this time is the fact that most students aren’t aware of how serious the outbreak currently is. Because of legal reasons, GU leadership has elected to keep secret the names of those who are ill, which is commendable when considering the discrimination people who contracted the disease experienced. By only informing us of the number of people currently ill, GU also helps to prevent a panic among its students.

Knowing that GU is beloved for its friendly, welcoming atmosphere, it’s saddening to see that atmosphere come under strain because of group size limitations and social distancing requirements. It’s devastating to know that there are those actively seeking to harm that atmosphere.

I, however, have faith in the GU community to rise above the difficulties thrown our way by COVID-19. It was empowering to know that GU leadership believes in the protection of its students, and that they have established this campus as a place of safety and not shame. But I also know that we can’t just rely on presidents and provosts to revive the phrase “Zags Help Zags”.

I believe that COVID-19 is not a political issue. Many people have experienced discrimination at the hands of others due to stereotyping and xenophobia. On the other end, groups like @zagsunmasked have discriminated against healthy students. Further still, many of these mask-less students presumably chose to remove their masks due to an expression of political difference.

The main way to combat stereotypes and discrimination is through awareness. As with most afflictions, the overall stance on COVID-19 is that it is “someone else’s problem” until you catch it, and then it becomes very much “your problem”. Still, many seek to hide their positive test results because of the stigma surrounding the disease.

We should seek to bring greater awareness to COVID-19 by first sharing our own stories about the virus. We should tell each other without fear of judgement just how much this disease has impacted us, especially if we have lost more than our ability to hang out with a large group of friends. After all, we should be more afraid of something that has killed one million people worldwide than the scorn and disdain of our friends and coworkers.

Secondly, we can improve awareness of COVID-19 by being open and honest about where the virus has been found on campus. By no means am I saying to out individuals; that would only add to the stigma piling onto the person already suffering from the disease.

What you should do is warn frequent visitors to your dorm and hall that they are entering a space where COVID has been found. You should tell them that not only was the virus found in your building, but a large portion of its residents were quarantined as “close contacts” of the sick person.

What we must not do is become individualistic in our actions. Choosing not to wear a mask because of the politics we associate with it is individualistic. Shaming others because they aren’t following the rules everyone else has to is individualistic. Continuing to visit other living areas when you know yours has COVID-19 is individualistic.

In the end, we are all in this together. Let’s continue to be people living for others, caring for each other in this time of need. Let’s continue to be Zags helping Zags.

Red Kwenda is a staff writer. Follow him on Twitter at @RedKwendaWriter

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