For me, early 2020 came and went. The paranoia clung to the window outside my room, and I can say it hasn’t truly left since. Alongside it grew a heightened sense of caution as well as a desire to fully understand the reach out of what began as something so, so vehemently small. But still a daunting fact remained, I was to attend Millsaps during the fall semester. With the small campus I knew it had and the promises of airtight restrictions and precautions, I naturally was eased when I realized the lengths of what I was assured would be done to ensure the safety of myself and others. I gained a misty sense of appreciation during my first year; it properly felt as though guidelines were in order. When the occasional slip occurred, it was always righted. My experience on campus initially as a freshman was much akin to the traditional first year experience; I tended to shelter myself and shy away from events and things I wasn’t fully aware of or on board with. The notion of the additional jab of the worldwide pandemic ensuing helping add to my decision making process was old news, it became routine. The space between my classmates and I was certainly notable, but that too became a normality. I was accompanied by empty classrooms, remote learning on occasion, and the strange absence of students in the cafeteria when I would go to get my daily to go box and hurry off to my dorm. And before I knew it, the year itself had completely passed me by. But as always, things change.
The moment I stepped on campus this year I was rather overcome with the differences taking place in Millsaps. Everything became starkly different than what I was used to. But that’s the case with everything, right? When you compare two things at different times, you’re bound to end up with supposed connections and ideas. In a conversation with another student about this topic, I made note of just how many people there were around. With remote classes seemingly no longer at the forefront, it’s as though waves of people suddenly materialized. Going to the cafeteria felt newer than before, like I had to adjust all over again. Even now I still see maskless groups of people calmly eating as I walk past them. Blaming individuals is of poor taste, because what is there for people to do? Guilt being pushed against students and even faculty is of no good will. Even I am guilty of shedding my own protective measures amongst groups of others (albeit with some coercion) regardless of my status as fully vaccinated. But it was at that point this semester when I saw groups of people without a care in the world, when I heard strange denial-like rhetoric amongst a student about how the “sun kills Covid,” that I realized how unbelievably infuriating everything about this topic is.
It’s no secret to anyone that Millsaps is a rather sheltered community, huddled away on its private campus from the rest of the city. And I believe this is more true than ever before. Accusations of fear mongering speech, conspiracies even, tend to crop up when the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic is discussed as bluntly as possible. My sympathy grows weaker the more I linger on the fact that the school I attend is private. My exhaustion becomes exacerbated.When I hear and see what’s occurring here, I can’t help but be overwhelmed. Passing comments of the six feet space suddenly being altered to three feels otherworldly as I had no idea this had even been spoken about. To me it’s as if that weren’t the case at all this year. There are no classes where I find myself not directly next to a classmate. And to think that last year around this very time that cases would be significantly higher would’ve felt horrific. It should provoke caution in others, but has it? When the total cases in Mississippi have reached 497,000 and continue to climb, I can’t help but worry. In Hinds county, the number of cases (31,796) continues to reach higher and higher. This information is at the fingertips of any student, so one must question why is it that restrictions have become so light? The Delta variant has been creeping up for months, but I practically see no mention of it anywhere when precautions are remotely discussed. Those I hold dear to me have directly been affected by the grip of the pandemic, and to see so many take the luxury they have of existing in this dome of safety where denial can run rampant amongst airy restrictions is heartbreaking; this feels needless to be said but it begs to be reiterated. It’s simply painful knowing that across the United States many hospitals are at full capacity; bed to bed with a piling waitlist with staff just waiting for a poor individual to pass to continue this cycle. To know all of this is of vital importance, as upsetting and compromising as it is. But will this be discussed? Will things truly change? Are the restrictions here just as a matter to protect our own and forget what else lies outside? For the sake of empathy, I sincerely hope not.