OPINION: Mercer students, please stop partying

This is an opinion article. Any views expressed belong solely to the author and are not representative of The Cluster.

To be honest, I shouldn’t have to write this.

Like many Mercer students, I was nervous about coming back this semester. On our campus, around 4,000 people eat, sleep, go to class and spend their remaining time within a quarter square mile of each other. How could anyone hope to social distance in an environment like that?

As I thought about the precautions I would need to take on campus—making masks, buying disinfectant cleaner, planning how I would eat without coming into close contact with other students—the thought of parties never crossed my mind. Who could think about partying in a time like this?

Clearly, I underestimated the selfishness of Mercer students.

To a certain extent, I am sympathetic to my fellow students because they are simply mirroring the behavior they see in authority figures. It’s not as if Mercer’s student body is acting completely out of touch with our larger community.

Mercer’s own administration has been disturbingly casual about coronavirus safety through their decisions to continue activities such as Bear Beginnings. Our school made its freshmen eat meals together inside the Fresh Food Company or Farmer’s Market with members of their O-Groups before receiving negative test results, so I understand why students could think this kind of behavior is acceptable.

Expanding the scope of our community even larger, we can see that this unconcerned attitude towards the pandemic comes from even higher authorities. With a governor who attempted to sue Atlanta’s mayor for instituting a mandatory mask policy and a president who refused to wear a mask for months after every leading health organization in the world recommended them, it’s understandable why Mercer students feel they don’t need to worry about the virus. That message is being spread like its own disease at every level of authority, from our school administration to our state governor, all the way up the chain of command.

So, again, I understand why it’s tempting for Mercer students to believe this narrative. It would be wonderful to live in a world where we don’t have to worry about the virus. Personally, I’m already making a list of everything I want to do when this all goes back to normal. But unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in now. We can’t make the pandemic disappear just by pretending it’s not there. Spending time in large groups without masks or social distancing is only going to make this situation worse.

Across the country, schools are shutting down because the rate of infection on their campuses has exceeded their expectations. If Mercer does shut down for the semester or go temporarily online, it won’t be entirely the students’ fault. There’s only so much we can do when we come into contact with such a large number of people every day simply because we live on a college campus with 4,000 other potential carriers. However, we need to take responsibility for the parts of our lives we can control. We need to think carefully about who we are choosing to expose ourselves to.

In my opinion, people who are going to parties and large gatherings right now are incredibly selfish. They don’t seem concerned about the possibility of spreading the virus to immunocompromised or otherwise at-risk students, faculty, staff and all their families. They only seem concerned about “missing out” on their college experience.

If thinking about other people isn’t enough to make you stop partying, do it for yourself.

Thousands of college students are at home right now because their colleges or communities couldn’t keep the virus under control. To any Mercer students who think avoiding large gatherings is no way to spend your time in college, imagine how much worse it would be if you couldn’t be on campus at all. Do you really want to spend another semester Zooming from your childhood bedroom because you couldn’t resist going to a party?

Or maybe you don’t care about being sent home. Maybe you plan to party while you can and count on the fact that if you do contract the virus, you’ll likely be asymptomatic. Unfortunately, that’s not a guarantee. While the majority of people our age who contract the virus experience mild symptoms, 20-year-olds have needed ventilators whose only preexisting condition was thinking they were invincible. There are previously perfectly healthy college students who are now dead because of the virus. Is that a risk you’re willing to take?

Mercer students, if you’re selfish enough to go to parties and host large gatherings right now, please be selfless enough to stop.