Like many coastal North Carolina students, I watched the national news coverage of my hometown follow the storm that was Hurricane Florence slowly taking apart pieces of my home from a distance. I watched camera crews from CNN, the Today Show and NBC drive through the most familiar streets I know, showing fresh tragedy and destruction.

It is all surreal — to watch your home be torn apart by an uncontrollable force on a screen. But it’s even worse to watch it become a laughing stock.

Thousands of students left Elon University the weekend of the storm to their homes in the Northeast, to see their family and friends. Posts with captions such as, “Thank you Hurricane Florence!” frequented my social media feeds after Jon Dooley, vice president for Student Life, suggested students return home. I tried to ignore these comments, knowing that many students were too oblivious to understand the seriousness and closeness of the tragedy.

Elon University is only three hours from the coast. These students treated the beginning of semester break like a vacation, posting polished photos of how great their six-day trip was. But only a couple hundred miles from their school, communities were losing all they have.

I watched my peers relish in a vacation while my hometown was pulled apart. My neighbors, community and family are now deeply hurting because of this disaster.

It seems trite to remind Elon students that they are a part of the North Carolina community while they are here. The entire state — their state — is hurting from this disaster. Rather than using this natural disaster as a cute caption on your Instagram post, as an excuse fly to your untouched home, use it as a chance to empathize with those around you. See being a temporary North Carolina resident as a privilege and opportunity to serve the state during its loss.