Ending the blame battle in Athens graphic

The start of a school year always feels like a new beginning. Students flood the campus, eager for those fresh feelings of change, and as August becomes September, the University of Georgia comes to life, beaming bright red from its brick buildings to the Sanford Stadium lights.

This August, students were more eager than ever, yearning for a sense of normalcy after five months of living alone or being cooped up with their parents or roommates. In the coronavirus era, school reopenings have seemed like a milestone, a promising breakthrough that we are one step closer to returning to normal life. Looking back, the first two months of this school year were anything but normal, and UGA’s lively campus and supportive community have transformed into a messy battlefield.

As cases continue to surge, leaders in the UGA administration blame students, students pointe fingers at their peers, local journalists call on the school to take their own responsibility and parents criticize these stories, holding on to that initial sliver of hope that their child could have a normal college experience. This blame battle, stirred from valid emotional reactions, only divides the community, loosening our grip on the sensibility we need to face this pandemic. While there is no simple resolution, we must start by considering all perspectives.

An argument against school closures stems from the preexisting mental health crisis among college students. Extended periods of loneliness deteriorates mental and physical health over time, and social isolation and separation from the usual cohort of teachers and friends takes a toll on young people. According to an Active Minds survey, 80% of college students report that COVID-19 has negatively impacted their mental health, and stress or anxiety account for 91% of that effect on students’ lives.

Many parents have expressed concerns over this issue, and rightfully so. While shutting down may not be the answer, parents need to understand that the current state of college communities is only inducing stress and anxiety among students. Further, universities should address collegiate mental health during this pandemic and consider the challenges that come with actually testing positive.

UGA students accounted for 99% of the positive tests reported through DawgCheck during the first week of September. Many young people in the Athens community engage in irresponsible and reckless activity, and most need to consider and respect the university’s deliberate efforts to provide in-person instruction. On the other hand, with open classrooms, a lively bar scene and little to no behavioral guidelines, it is unrealistic to expect students not to socially gather. By placing the blame entirely on students, university officials undermine their own leadership.

UGA is not the only school divided into this battlefield of blame. Universities across the U.S. face challenges when it comes to limiting and restricting social gatherings, and students weigh the consequences of snitching, another internal battle that heightens stress and anxiety. Although college officials have issued desperate demands, threatened suspension and implemented risky isolation measures, their attempts seem more divisive than productive.

The start of this school year is more than a new beginning. It is an extraordinary experiment within college communities, and we are living through trial and error together. Under these circumstances, chaos and controversy are inevitable. Yet, this blame battle is in the broken record stage. We need to consider other perspectives and remind ourselves that we are battling a pandemic, not each other. From students and parents to faculty and staff, we’re each a piece of UGA’s spirited, supportive and unique community. It’s time to leave the battlefield and face this reality together

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(1) comment


One way to deal with the problems discussed in this good article is to switch to thinking about a much worse problem at a different place and different time where much worse gross injustice happened. In 1986 top engineers warned that at low temperatures the rubber O-rings separating the hot engine gases from the crew get brittle and will not do the job assigned to them. They refused to approve the flight in such cold weather. But the autocratic military system of command and control permitted public relations folks at Morton Thiokol and NASA to over rule them. This led to the senseless deaths of the entire crew of 7 with zero responsibility assigned to them. This was shameful. The engineer who tried to stop this had his career destroyed while these public relations freaks received zero punishment when they should have faced manslaughter charges or worse. Read these moving articles: http://articles.latimes.com/2012/feb/07/local/la-me-roger-boisjoly-20120207




ROGER MARK BOISJOLY, M.E., University of Massachusetts, Lowell, Massachusetts.

Born: April 25, 1938, Lowell, Massachusetts.

Died: January 6, 2012, Nephi, Utah, age 73, cancer.

Quote from “Roger Boisjoly The Conscience of Engineering” by Joseph Trento above:

Roger Boisjoly – The Conscience of Engineering

By Joseph Trento, on February 13th, 2012

Trento's Take

Photo courtesy of Online Ethics Center (OEC)

“My friend and rocket engineer, Roger Boisjoly, died on January 6. He loved his family, his church and his country.

Every time you get on an elevator, fly on a plane, use the brakes on your car or drive across a bridge, you should think of Roger because you are putting your life in the hands and conscience of an engineer. You trust that engineers have the intestinal fortitude to stand up to bosses who want to take risks or shortcuts to save money or increase profits at the expense of safety.

Roger was that kind of engineer.

From its first flight in 1981, Boisjoly discovered that the big, twin, 150-foot-long solid rocket boosters on the space shuttles were leaking hot gases through seals that connect the booster segments. It got worse on each flight. He knew this compromise of the boosters could lead to the destruction of a manned shuttle and the death of its crew. He wrote memos. He told everyone in authority. He went to the Cape and inspected the recovered boosters after launch and, based on decades of experience, he wanted to ground the shuttle fleet until the problem was fixed. No one listened to him.

The night before the Challenger space shuttle was scheduled to launch on January 26, 1986, there was a meeting to decide if it was safe to launch. Although he did not know it, that night Roger committed professional suicide by stating clearly and flatly the shuttle was not safe to fly the next morning. During a pre-launch conference call with NASA executives and his bosses, he argued that the cold weather made the joint problem even more serious. He was shocked when NASA and Morton Thiokol management (his bosses) overruled his recommendation and gave a go for launch.

Seven astronauts, including a schoolteacher, were killed when the shuttle blew apart 73 seconds after liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center. Years later, as he sat in my backyard with tears streaming down his round face, Roger talked about the tragedy as if it were still that horrible morning. “I knew they were all going to die, and I could not do anything to stop it.”” Posted by Winfield J. Abbe, Ph.D. Physics citizen for 54 years.

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