What we talk about when we talk about coronavirus



Two students wore hazmat suits that said “Everybody is F***ed” at last month’s Winter Carnival.


We hear you: this wasn’t how the spring semester was supposed to go. In the wake of President Patton’s email Tuesday, announcing the shift to remote learning following an early, extended spring break, to say that things are “uncertain” feels like an understatement. Talk to anyone on campus: chances are they’re upset and confused. We are too.

It’s hard to fault anyone for their feelings at a time like this. The whole range of emotions (anger, disappointment, fear) seems pretty understandable. Less understandable, though, are some of the conversations and reactions which have taken place on campus over the past couple of weeks. At Winter Carnival, two students appeared dressed in hazmat suits with “Everybody is F***ed” written on the back. Following Amherst’s cancellation of in-person classes on Monday night, a group took to Battell Beach chanting “COVID-19.” 

We realize that humor forms a vital tool for coping, especially in situations as nebulous or unfathomable as this one. Still, the virus affects members of the Middlebury community differently — including their ability to laugh along. For some, the virus simply represents an inconvenience (cause for cancelling spring break plane tickets, say, or renting a storage locker in town). For others, though (members of the community who have existing health conditions, for instance, or those with family and friends in high-risk environments) the stakes are much, much higher. And so what to some might seem like an innocuous joke, is to others a reminder of the imminent danger their parents and friends face back home. We’d suggest that instilling fear or uncertainty is too high a price to pay for the sake of a joke.

Humor aside, it’s imperative that we think critically not only about the conversations we’re having, but who’s in the room when we have them. In a community as small as Middlebury, it’s easy to forget those who are hurt are often on the periphery of the Middlebury community. 

And, in a community as small and diverse as Middlebury, this awareness assumes even greater importance.

Come this weekend, students, faculty and staff will start spreading who knows where, for who knows how long. We’d suggest, though, that the impending distance doesn’t make upholding a safe and sensitive community any less important. Really, it’s reason to come closer together.