The semester has inched forward since we left Wellesley, that is for sure. While classes have helped some with establishing routine, staying in touch and lending focus to something other than the pandemic, we know that those feelings are not universal. Extended deadlines, lightened assignments and workloads and the overall laxness of academia are certainly not done in vain. And as the spring semester begins to wind down and we look towards Fall 2020, I write to ask for grace and empathy from the Wellesley community during this time.
Every day at 5 p.m, I check WCVB, Boston’s ABC affiliate, to see the new COVID-19 case numbers and death toll. Then I go to POLITICO’s US map and state-by-state list to update myself nationally. It’s been like this since March 13, the day I came home from Wellesley after a short 35 minute drive to Boston’s South Shore. That Friday, there were only 18 confirmed cases and 105 presumptive positives in the state.
As I write this, on April 19, Massachusetts has 38,077 confirmed cases and 1,706 deaths, making it the third hardest-hit state by COVID-19. It has stayed at this number for a week now. The Bay State has a population of a little under seven million, as opposed to more populated states like New York, New Jersey and Michigan, which are comparable in case totals. Essential workers like my father, those on the frontline like my cousins and everyday citizens of the Commonwealth are putting their lives on the line to ensure that even as the world halts, life still slowly moves on for the sake of order, justice and humanity.
I want to remind you, my Wellesley peers and friends, to keep in mind that Massachusetts does not just consist of white-collared academics from Cambridge and Boston, and that Wellesley is not representative of the Commonwealth as a whole. I want to remind you to be sensitive to your own classmates, staff and faculty who live in the state and may not respond well to the idea of 250,000 students coming back to the Greater Boston area in the fall right now given how honestly awful the situation is here. I want to spread awareness that this disease has railed through blue-collar communities, through communities of color, through low-income communities not only in Massachusetts but in every place COVID-19 has hit. My thoughts are with the many New Yorkers, New Jerseyans, Michiganders, international students and anyone else disproportionately affected by the crisis.
With this in mind, I ask you all to be gentle with your friends who may not be as excited as you are about seeing the course browser. Or to check in on people after those grudgingly long Zoom classes. Nudge productivity on yourself if you know it can help you to be where you need to be, but refrain from pushing it onto others. Right now doesn’t have to be a time full of self-discovery, of growth or of new beginnings, because for some people, especially our dining hall workers, our residence hall staff and our maintenance people, as well as our low-income, blue-collar, first gen friends, this moment in time constitutes fear, distress and overarchingly, grief and loss. Perpetuating only one narrative of this crisis, the “let’s move forward,” “let’s push for September” mentality, effectively erases the narratives of those who may struggle or suffer under circumstances that don’t even allow for them to think in that same mindset.
I want to be clear: now is not the time to give up all hope, of course. It is the future that motivates us forward, that drives us with such fervor toward the lives we want to live and the success we want to have, however that success is defined. But for some, focusing on the present — the dire circumstances, the processing of real, valid trauma, and the consequences of the way in which things are frustratingly and unfairly run in this country — is more important to their experience. We must value all experiences and uplift those who are especially down at this moment in time.
As we grieve our spring semester, or our financial situation, or the loss of a loved one, please be kind to yourselves and to others during this time of hardship. And as a die-hard Masshole and lover of most things Boston, be especially gentle on the people who may not seem all that nice, but who are so genuinely happy and enriched to have you all come back to school each and every fall.