We all know this semester will be different from previous ones in almost every way imaginable — online classes, mandatory face masks, constraints on the size of social gatherings and limited, if any, access to the town of Middlebury itself. Even the ways in which we are preparing for this semester are completely new: a new app that tracks possible symptoms, a mandatory 14-day quarantine and packing lighter. I hope that we all feel the same sense of impending responsibility: that we have to make sure this semester remains safe for everyone on campus.
But as a resident of the town of Middlebury, I am deeply concerned about the health and safety of my fellow community members who have expressed well-founded apprehension regarding it. By and large, the townspeople look upon us with trust, respect and gratitude, as we help to support local businesses and keep the town lively. But when we screw up, they are more than aware of that as well. Last fall, before Covid-19 had affected our lives, negligent acts of vandalism and recklessness committed on campus by our peers brought us deserved scrutiny from the local community. Furthermore, unfortunately, one of the last memories town members have of the final days of students on campus is tarnished by those who vandalised Two Brothers’ Tavern and Notte Pizza Bar. This is the opposite of the lasting impression we want to have on a community which welcomes and supports us. We must do better. This is a requirement, not an option.
It is far past time for us to earn back the trust and respect of the local community, and taking the necessary steps to protect the community from Covid-19 is the best way to do just that.
At the time of publication, 1,484 Vermonters have contracted Covid-19 and 58 have died. According to the New York Times, Vermont has the fewest total cases and cases per capita of any U.S. state. Recently, Vermont also became the first and, thus far, the only state where in the time frame of one month — from June 18 to July 30 — not a single person died from the virus (regrettably, two Vermonters have died since July 30). Additionally, there have been zero confirmed cases in the town of Middlebury.
This is what our reality looks like now. If you are returning to the area, please think about these statistics if you have doubts about the seriousness and effectiveness of the reopening plan. If you are thinking about going shopping when you arrive, I urge you to think about the business owners for whom contracting the virus could mean the closure of their store. Consider the professors who will risk their own health and that of their family to come and teach us. There are more of us returning to the area in the coming weeks than Vermont has Covid-19 cases.
Governor Phil Scott has said that the greatest risk facing Vermont is the influx of out-of-state residents coming into the state and disregarding regulations. The town of Middlebury does not have the infrastructure to cope with a massive outbreak that starts on campus. If we want to earn back the trust and respect of the community, it begins with sending an imperative message: your health and safety matter just as much, if not more, than mine. Throughout the past few months, I have been thoroughly impressed by the way this community has responded to the pandemic. We wear masks, we socially distance, we stay in our pods and, most importantly, we respect each other because we know it only takes one of us slipping up for this town to become a hotspot. This here is the mentality all of us must immediately adopt if we are to keep this community safe. When we all move in, by sheer virtue of living here, the health and safety of townspeople and their loved ones will immediately be at risk.
This is the solemn responsibility we find ourselves confronted with this semester. We must do absolutely everything we can to ensure there is not an outbreak. Residents of the town, like my parents and neighbors, had no say in the college’s reopening. When we all move in, by sheer virtue of living here, the health and safety of townspeople and their loved ones will immediately be at risk. Yes, the two-week pre-arrival quarantine is going to be challenging. We all want to see our friends in the remaining time we have, but I am committed to my own quarantine before I move back. Even though I am coming from less than a mile away, I believe as soon as we start making small exceptions to the quarantine, it will put everyone else at risk. Yes, wearing a mask outdoors on campus could seem unnecessary, but it is a small adjustment to make in the long run.
Please think about not just our campus community, but also about the local community who had no say in your return. This semester, we are obliged to protect not just ourselves, but the townspeople who, year after year, welcome us into this beautiful place with open arms. Dr. Peluso and President Patton’s leadership team have enough confidence in their plan to bring us back (heck, she’s even teaching her own in-person class), so let’s make sure their faith in us is not unfounded. We have a real opportunity to prove to the community that we are the responsible, diligent, smart and caring people we know we are. We can do this. We must do this.
Henry Ganey ’22 is a resident of Middlebury, Vt.