UC Berkeley students must work together to combat COVID-19

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The start of my presidency in the ASUC began hastily as I was swept into a whirlwind of meetings with campus administrators for discussions about the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, I was moving back home for my own safety, navigating my family space while also discussing the nuances of COVID-19 on the UC Berkeley campus. During meetings with campus administrators, staff and faculty, we discussed ways in which we could get students interested in safety precautions, how libraries could respond to social distancing guidelines, what the residential life experience would look like and much more.

In reality, it will take a collective effort to combat COVID-19 and an acknowledgment that our individual actions will impact not just ourselves but those around us. If we do not commit to stopping the spread, we put the campus community at risk. The campus community is bigger than its students — we are also responsible for the safety of our custodial staff, faculty, administrators, community organizers, residents of Berkeley, our peers and others. 

Wearing a mask is not just for yourself — it is for everyone. Our individual actions have a collective impact. When we actively follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s social distancing guidelines, we can decrease the chances of spreading COVID-19. Young people are not immune to COVID-19, and it is selfish to act like we are.

For many individuals who have decided to come back to Berkeley, whether they are living on campus or not, these decisions were not made lightly. For some members of our community, UC Berkeley is the only space where they feel safe, can focus on their studies and have access to basic needs resources or mental health services. For new students, some come to UC Berkeley to experience a semblance of residential college life. And for students planning to graduate this year, some are holding out for hope that they might experience some variation of an in-person spring semester and graduation. 

When universities started to announce their plans for the fall semester, many were, and continue to be, skeptical that college-age students would have the fortitude to maintain social distancing and avoid partying, group hangouts and other activities that could put our individual and collective health at risk. 

COVID-19 is not an abstract experience, however, and it’s important that our community works to follow safety guidelines despite the temptation to return to “normal.” 

Join me in committing to the Keep Berkeley Healthy Pledge. The pledge outlines best practices for slowing the spread of COVID-19, which all members of the UC Berkeley community should follow. It notes practices for personal hygiene and face coverings, explicitly stating that student organizations should not “host or attend any in-person meetings or activities on or off campus.” This pledge encourages all members to be accountable to one another. 

Student leaders are needed during this time to convey the harsh realities that their fellow students are facing to campus administrators. One piece of critical feedback my office has given to campus administrators is the need for more student voices within the COVID-19 discussions. Students should not just give feedback but also be a part of the decision-making process. 

ASUC officials have been working on a variety of matters related to COVID-19 and the support of student voices throughout this time. My office specifically has been in collaboration with the Office of Communications and Public Affairs’ social norms campaign to help design effective messaging to encourage folks to follow public health guidelines. The academic affairs vice president’s office spearheaded a town hall hosted by ASUC executives for student leaders to discuss the impacts of COVID-19 on their communities. ASUC executives have worked with the Academic Senate to discuss ways to support students across the world as they study amid the pandemic. 

We are also working with administrators on navigating the space of accountability and how we as a campus community should address those who break the Keep Berkeley Healthy Pledge in an educational and restorative way. ASUC members have also been working on addressing the financial concerns of students, access to technology, personal protective equipment and mental health services.

We take this commitment seriously because supporting students should not be a radical idea. Many in the ASUC are working to increase transparency about these projects and initiatives to hear more from students. Our voices are needed to challenge UC Berkeley to be better.

No matter where you are in the world, we as a UC Berkeley community can be the culture carriers to slow the spread of COVID-19. We have the power to encourage our peers and families to follow public health guidelines and actively hold one another accountable. 

COVID-19 has exacerbated many social inequities such as anti-Blackness, racism, economic disparities and xenophobia. We are at a pivotal point in history, and it’s clear COVID-19 is challenging our compassion. We need compassion to acknowledge each other’s humanity, to advocate for change and support and to combat COVID-19.

What we do now will impact not just the spring semester but the academic years to come. It may seem as though the world is watching and waiting for college students to fail this test — the test of a global pandemic and a crucial moment in our shared history. We need to prove those doubting us wrong, however, because UC Berkeley students can and will do better.

Victoria Vera is the ASUC president.