As noted in this morning’s edition of the Weekly Briefing, the notion that the failed reopening of the UNC system is the fault of “irresponsible” students who couldn’t control their long-stifled urges to party with peers is a bogus one. As the column points out:
“And even if one sets aside the obvious foreseeability of large student parties and kids acting like kids, the simple fact is that rapid virus spread is almost always what occurs when you gather hundreds of individuals to live together in close, congregate living quarters. As Killian also reported last week, ‘[t]he full-capacity dorm plans embraced by most UNC system schools…are considered highest risk by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for colleges and universities.'”
Moreover, as former UNC chancellor Holden Thorp observed yesterday in an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education, to the extent student partying has been a factor, universities have lost their moral authority to blame students:
“Colleges have a complicated relationship with student partying. They try to stop it when it gets out of hand, but they embrace it when it’s to their advantage. Every college fund raiser, including me, has accepted a gift after being regaled by a donor with nostalgic memories about epic parties at a frat house or dorm. We all may tangle with Greek life when confronting its racism, guns, gambling, sexual violence, and drugs, but it’s the college president who grabs a pledge form and gets on a plane when a former partyer strikes it rich later on. (UNC-Chapel Hill even has endowed chairs named after fraternities and sororities.)
The pandemic reveals the costs of failing to reckon with that paradox. Colleges may want to blame student partying for not allowing them to reopen successfully, but they have forfeited the moral authority to do so.’
And then — perhaps even more importantly — there’s the issue of wildly divergent messages from supposedly responsible adults.
One of the most under-reported aspects of the university reopening fiasco is the role played by conservative political leaders (i.e. President Trump and his minions) who have repeatedly denied the seriousness of the pandemic and acted as if they are immune — a message that’s clearly been taken to heart by many a hard-charging frat boy.
Take White House chief of staff and former North Carolina congressman Mark Meadows. Here’s Meadows yesterday at the Republican National Convention in Charlotte doing his impressions of Dan Forest and Eric Stratton of Animal House fame by shaking hands and exchanging hugs and kisses sans mask.
WH Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is maskless, shaking hands and kissing cheeks at Trump's event in North Carolina. pic.twitter.com/BEjEDMOD0G
— The Recount (@therecount) August 24, 2020
Honestly, how can we possibly expect young people to stick to social distancing guidelines when the people running the country refuse to do so themselves?