Ready and Resilient are the last words I would use to describe Elon’s reopening plan.
As a proud founding member of the Boldy Elon Solidarity Collective, I have spent the last two months with like-minded students organizing and mobilizing to promote policy change at Elon University. Yet, even with this persistent effort and small victories, I am deeply troubled by the lack of a moral conscious present on this campus.
Although there are a myriad of ethical problems and institutional failures being brought to light — including but not limited to the Elon University Police Department’s involvement with Terry Johnson, who, in my opinion, is the living embodiment of white supremacy and whose actions have been condemned by the U.S. Department of Justice, the school’s complicity in voter suppression by refusing to condemn Louis DeJoy, a Board of Trustee member and Postmaster General, their firing of adjunct faculty and suppression of the legally recognized Elon Faculty Union — I am writing on behalf of Elon’s disastrous and ethically egregious reopening plan.
From the very beginning, this plan had no comprehensive protections for students, faculty and other campus workers. The premise of the plan hinged on the insistence on an in-person semester despite the state of North Carolina becoming a hotbed of COVID-19 cases.
As of Aug. 18, in North Carolina alone there have been 146,779 positive cases of COVID-19 and 2,396 deaths. According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, there have been 2,681 positive cases in Alamance County alone, followed by 42 deaths. There are only 212 ICU beds currently available in Alamance County, which has a population of 169,509 people — not including homeless people, undocumented immigrants and other groups underrepresented by the U.S. Census.
Despite this data being readily available all summer, Elon administration has pushed forward with this senseless plan with the help of their “Ready and Resilient” committee — inviting 7,000 students back from all over the country to a health care system already under a significant amount of duress.
To make matters worse, Elon’s reopening policies and their attitude towards students have been atrocious, to say the least. While fully planning for an in-person semester, students looking to stay on campus for remote learning may lose their housing as a result of applying for accommodations. To apply for these accommodations, some students must also have access to a health care provider that is able to advocate on their behalf while navigating through a bureaucratic entanglement of emails, departments, and committees.
Furthermore, although this policy has recently been amended due to pressure from administration from students and news sources like the Washington Post, students were mandated to take a $129 COVID-19 test through LabCorp — a company with a clear conflict of interest with the university. LabCorp’s direct beneficiaries and founder, James Powell, as well as his wife, Anne Powell, are on the Board of Trustees, and former CEO of LabCorp David King served a short term of the Board of Trustees starting in 2016. Elon is still disenfranchising adjuncts who have limited to no healthcare access, and there is no clear plan for emergency pandemic leave or protection for campus workers — physical plant, dining staff — who form the lifeblood of this institution.
Additionally, Elon still planned for a full move-in and orientation schedule. Students who returned to campus were tested two to three weeks before the semester began, but family members accompanying them were not. Orientation groups were immediately formed with little to no thought about realistic social distancing procedures. The Elon administration also did not account for the inevitable parties that have been occurring and will continue to occur. All of these issues combined are, simply put, a recipe for disaster.
In response to these foreseeable issues, prior to the semester, the Boldly Elon Solidarity Collective addressed these concerns in the “We Won’t Die for Elon” town hall, where students community members, and faculty members issued their concerns about Elon’s re-opening and the effects this “plan” will have on the surrounding community. Additionally, the Boldly Elon Solidarity Collective issued an open letter to the Elon administration with a list of 13 demands including more comprehensive COVID-19 policies, as well suggestions for pay cuts for members of upper administration, President Connie Book included, to prevent possible furloughs and layoffs for all campus workers and employees at Elon.
The Collective also organized a “die-in” protest — which Book seemed to find very funny as she not only laughed when asked about it but implied the demonstration was staged by the Service Employees International Union. She also decided an appropriate response to a protest called “We Won’t Die for Elon” was to advise students to take a semester off of school instead of actually taking these concerns into consideration.
The SEIU had no involvement in the “die-in” — it was organized and led by concerned students such as myself, who are terrified for their lives. Elon administration has yet to respond to any of these efforts or any concerns addressed by individual students in a comprehensive manner. Instead we received one or two short, dismissive emails.
Respect. Trust. These are two virtues that must be earned and in the past two months alone, Elon administration has lost them both not only from myself but from several members of the undergraduate student body and alumni of the university.
Make no mistake, I do not hate Elon. I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve had here and the professors and mentors I’ve gained along the way. I am speaking out because I want Elon to be better and do better for all of us.
I don’t want to be writing this. I don’t want to fear for my life, but unfortunately, the Elon administration has proven by their actions or lack thereof, yet again, they value tuition money over the lives of their students, employees and members of the Alamance County community. By planning and facilitating this reopening plan with little to no consideration for the common good and or those that are most vulnerable, Elon administration is perpetuating systems of oppression — which is, in essence, violence.
For a university that claims to value global engagement, diversity and inclusion, these promises ring hollow and our complaints continually fall upon deaf ears. And with the outcry of student and faculty grievances, I have no choices but to view these empty promises as intentionally malicious and repressive.
When an outbreak happens, it will be the Elon administration — from Jon Dooley right up to Book — who is to blame. If any student, worker and or community member gets ill or dies, it will have been the result of an apathetic administration who has ignored science, ignored public health and ignored the concerns of the very people they claim to care about.
In-person classes have already taken place. As proven by UNC Chapel Hill’s closing, it is clear an outbreak is inevitable. This decision to reopen campus without any regard to students or those who will be disproportionately affected by COVID-19, immunocompromised, low-income, and Black and Brown people, is cementing Elon’s firm foundation in white supremacy, classism and racism.
Elon students: wake up. Recognize that Elon is not doing the right thing. Call on Elon’s administration to close campus for an online semester before even more people are exposed. In conclusion, I will leave you with this quote by BESC member Jay Tiemann.
“When the first death occurs, it will not be tragic. It will have been preventable.”