NIU should have same responsibility as students in stopping virus spread

Dean of Students email showed good intent but poor execution

Student+organizations+wait+at+tables+to+get+students+involved+with+them+Sunday+at+NIU%27s+involvement+fair.

Patrick Murphy

Student organizations wait at tables to get students involved with them Sunday at NIU's involvement fair.

Danielle Elliott, Contributor

The Dean of Students office sent out an email Saturday to student organization representatives who were registered to participate in the involvement fair during the weekend. The email was sent as an effort to criticize some of the behaviors of representatives in the hopes of them not reoccurring the following day. This email that was sent out was inappropriate and provided content that did not match its intended purpose to protect the health of students. 

The most notable statement of the email was that NIU is “doing everything we can to try to keep our community healthy. If NIU has to shut down, it will not be because NIU didn’t do everything in our power. It will be because students made poor choices.” 

This a twofold statement that is important to break down.

It is important to question if the university itself is doing everything they can to try to keep our community healthy as the first part of the statement claims. Most students are predominantly using online class formats but many students still live on campus, travel to campus regularly, and meet in-person for classes. The risk of contracting COVID-19 exists even within NIU’s Protect the Pack guidelines. The university is doing a fairly good job when it comes to adapting to a new normal, but to say that they are doing everything they can is an overstatement.

That being said, in order for the first part of the statement in the email to be correct, students would likely not even be on campus at all and would be fully online, which would be less than ideal for so many.

“What we have to do is really work together to try and minimize health risks and maximize the student experience,” NIU President Lisa Freeman said. “Those two things are often working against each other. We can’t completely eliminate the risk of contracting COVID-19 and to really try to, again, balance the student experience with the risk, we have to promote health and safety and implement a suite of things.”

This includes wearing face masks, social distancing, being aware of symptoms and following the advice of public health professionals. A more correct statement in the email would have been that NIU is doing the best we can to try to keep our community healthy while also attempting new ways to maximize the student experience.

In regard to the second part of the statement, I was in attendance at the fair, but did not personally see the “many things that [were] unacceptable given COVID-19 and the Protect the Pack expectations” as the email discussed. Regardless of what occurred on that day, the blame being directly targeted at students was uncalled for. 

“I don’t think blaming students is appropriate,” Freeman said. “I do think there are many times when calling out behavior that is inappropriate is a good thing to do; to remind people of their obligation to the community and each other, and sometimes to take action against behavior that endangers individual students and our community.”

I agree wholeheartedly with Freeman here, and I was relieved to know our university’s leadership is understanding of the health risks while also working hard to allow student connection. 

“The university doesn’t want to shame or blame students but we want us to all feel that we’re in this together, our success depends on each other,” Freeman said. “We want to hold each other accountable and that means we have to be able to say, ‘Hey I know it’s not fun but let’s try to remember that we need to do these things.’” 

The intent of the email sent out by the Dean of Students was admirable while the execution was not. Being stern and advising caution to students about following healthy behavior could have been achieved without the implied blame on students for the possibility of the university having to close.

It is absolutely important for students to continuously practice all recommended safety measures. It is also important to hold the DeKalb community as a whole, including university administration and staff, accountable for public safety. That is what makes up a strong, kind, healthy and loving community.