On Friday, Oct. 2, West Chester Mayor Dianne Herrin issued a state of emergency declaration in the face of a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases within the borough. The declaration itself cites a “particularly high” rate of infection “in the 18- to 22-year-old age group.” Mayor Herrin’s emergency declaration both limited social gatherings at private residences to a maximum of ten individuals and mandated the wearing of masks in public places.
In an article entitled “West Chester virus outbreak points to West Chester University,” written by Micahel P. Rellahan for the Daily Local News, the point is hard to misunderstand: irresponsible WCU students are the cause of this increased number of coronavirus cases. DLN’s article even describes a “noisy party at a fraternity house,” to which police responded and “found over 100 people.”
WCU President Christopher Fiorentino piled on with his own letter the day after Mayor Herrin’s emergency declaration. “This is serious,” the letter states, going on to read:
“It is our hope that all of you will take this reality to heart. As enrolled students at West Chester University, we expect you to be good, law-abiding citizens who will look out for each other and your neighbors. You are to follow all of the rules of the Borough’s declaration to [details the specifics of the emergency declaration]. These are the rules.”
Pres. Fiorentino concludes his letter by saying: “Rams take care of each other — all the time.”
Do we “take care of each other all the time,” Mr. President? That notion was absent from your vague and inconsequential statement in response to the situation of Taylor Enterline — one of your own students who has been needlessly victimized by the state’s legal system.
But I digress. I can’t be the only one who notices the dripping condescension in the President’s letter, in Rellahan’s article for the DLN and even to a degree in Mayor Herrin’s original emergency declaration. It is their view that we students at WCU are not simply irresponsible, but mindless, party-going zombies who throw caution to the wind and ignore the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic.
They fail to consider that WCU students make up a massive share of the Borough’s workforce. Local businesses rely on employing the university’s students to staff their food delivery and service positions, among many others, and the students themselves must pay their rent and bills once they move off-campus.
They also fail to consider that these same students and the businesses for whom they work — like many other Americans — have been hopelessly left behind by a federal government who, after one stimulus package, ignored their needs and left them to fend for themselves.
“A second federal stimulus, I believe, is paramount in not only aiding those who have been heavily affected financially, but also slowing the number of people who are contracting COVID,” says Justin Bifolco, a senior English major and the current Arts & Entertainment editor for The Quad. “As long as people have to work and scrounge for their money, there will be people forced to take high-risk jobs.”
As it stands now, not operating is out of the question for the Borough’s business and by extension, so is not working for the university’s students.
“It’s definitely not possible for me to consider not working,” Bifolco continues. “Even with student loans, I still just barely cover my bills and personal expenses. I require that $400–$500 biweekly paycheck to live.”
And these jobs are often, unfortunately, high-exposure ones — in Bifolco’s words: “These jobs disproportionately put people of our age demographic in high-risk situations when it comes to COVID exposure”— but what alternative is there? Lose the homes they rent? Find themselves unable to pay their tuition and set their whole lives back? I understand that, from their top-1% pedestals, Pres. Fiorentino, Mayor Herrin and others don’t experience the same daily anxiety these students do, but if they mean to represent these students in any meaningful way, they ought to start giving it some thought.
I understand that, as detailed in the aforementioned DLN article, there are some irresponsible students at the university who throw large parties and ignore the realities of COVID-19. According to CJ Deskie, a current third-year psychology major, “I’m willing to say they party every weekend. Every time I go into town on weekends I see one or two big parties, still around 20 people, and I really don’t think all 20 people live there.”
I am not ignoring that, and I certainly don’t endorse their actions — they are incredibly dangerous. Let us not lose focus, however, and ignore other groups in the Borough who flout Mayor Herrin’s emergency order.
“As much as it is on all of us to play it safe right now, I know for a fact college kids aren’t the only people we can be pointing fingers at,” says Ali Kochik, a third-year English major and The Quad’s op-ed editor. “I was just downtown [Friday] evening with my roommates picking up dinner to take back to our house, when an older, completely unmasked woman came up to ask me how to get to Bar Avalon.”
“It’s a bit frustrating to have my age group thrown under the bus when I was going home to spend my Friday night eating pizza and watching Hulu in my living room, while someone who looked like she was older than my grandma, and all her friends, were going out bar-hopping.”
It should be obvious by now that there is more to the story of spiking coronavirus cases than simply irresponsible students. Ignoring the dangers of the virus and the Mayor’s emergency order isn’t exclusive to students at WCU. And even where students do act irresponsibly, it is my opinion that they don’t constitute anything near a majority of those at WCU. Rather, the majority are the “good, law-abiding citizens” that Pres. Fiorentino urges us to be in his letter: financially-responsible and hardworking, even faced with the possibility of contracting and spreading a deadly virus.
And they are so because no one has given them any other choice.
Kyle Gombosi is a senior Music: Elective Studies major with a minor in journalism. KG806059@wcupa.edu