Seniors must consider younger students

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COURTESY PHOTO // WM.EDU

Every upperclassman at the College of William and Mary, I want you to listen to me very closely, or at least as closely as you can from six feet away. Repeat after me: despite your complaints, despite your Instagram stories and despite your objections, things are likely easier for you in Williamsburg than they are for the College’s freshmen.

Even more so, your unwillingness to confront that reality is causing direct harm for your fellow students.

Let me start off by saying that I’m a senior, and I know how difficult this situation is for us. Like you, I also wanted nothing more than to spend my last year in Williamsburg going to bars, brunching every Sunday and hanging out in large gatherings without hazes of existential dread clouding out any meaningful attempt at interaction. Standing on the precipice of the ‘real world’ facing vast individual and societal uncertainty is exhausting and scary. I pride myself on being somewhat competent and put-together, but I’ve had my fair share of exasperated moments this September, plagued by endless streams of doubt regarding what comes next. What if the job market doesn’t recover by May? What if my graduate school applications fall flat? What if the spring semester passes by and I never see those of my friends completing classes remotely again?

So, I completely understand how precarious things are for the class of 2021 right now. I sympathize with the frustration of being roped into the College’s COVID-19 response plan like guinea pigs, when all I want is to successfully receive my diploma and move on with my life. But something I cannot and will not sympathize with is the blatant disrespect that I’ve seen a small portion of seniors exercise by living life as normal, which is going to have dire consequences for our younger peers on campus.

I’ve heard too many stories about seniors going to large social functions with more than 20 people, disregarding the College’s policies and abandoning any modicum of common sense. Even worse, some post about it on social media, which shows that they’re more devoted to validating their insecurities than preventing College professors, students and staff from falling fatally ill.

It’s already problematic that people are so flagrantly disobeying public health guidelines, but especially so when you place it in the context of our broader campus community. Whenever seniors and upperclassmen break rules, they may be directly shortening the amount of time that freshmen, transfers and other new students are able to spend in Williamsburg, which the College administration is more than happy to remind us of through undeserved intimidating emails and text messages. I don’t want to prove these emails right, because I similarly abhor the university’s decision to bring us back for in-person classes, and I’m not willing to do anything risky to vindicate their poor choices — not when the stakes are this high for younger students.

Any selfishness on behalf of older students is adversely affecting freshmen as they desperately try to forge new relationships during their potentially fleeting time here this semester.

As seniors, we have the privilege of well-established friendships, networks and affiliations in Williamsburg. We have people to see for socially-distant picnics and drinks, and many of us are fortunate to have roots firmly planted in multiple campus clubs and organizations. Without a doubt, things are uncomfortable now, but for new students with no ground beneath their feet, COVID-19 has made college life exceedingly challenging and aimless. If we are to claim any semblance of decency, we owe new students the chance to make the College their own during these impossible months. Any upperclassman refusing to do so is actively harming the community we all swore to care about so many years ago — and I sincerely hope they reckon with that unfortunate truth while navigating their final months here.

Email Ethan Brown at
ewbrown@email.wm.edu.