Sanz: A Community Divided

We cannot continue to pit students against residents.

by Jordan Sanz | 7/31/20 2:50am

On July 24, Julia Griffin, the Hanover town manager, penned an op-ed in The Dartmouth titled “Selfish Students.” In this article, Griffin warns students to “smarten up” and attempts to scare them by discussing the potential reversal of students’ future on-campus privileges. While I strongly agree that students must socially distance, Griffin neglects to address other Hanover community members who blatantly ignore guidelines. Instead, she bitterly characterizes Dartmouth students as the main threat. All of us, as a community, have the responsibility to uphold social distancing regulations. To point fingers in discourse, to cast blame and to depict Dartmouth students as enemies rather than community members does not protect Hanover; it divides us and dooms our community’s future.

Let me explain my personal situation before I’m labeled as another “selfish student.” I am currently living in my hometown of Midland, Texas, and have been since I returned from Hanover in mid-March. Since then, I have not left my house. I am 20 years old and I am immunocompromised. I thus fall into a high-risk category for COVID-19. I haven’t seen anyone outside of my immediate family, gone to any stores or parks, nor ventured further than my front lawn. I cannot return to Hanover in the fall, and sadly, I will likely not be able to for the entirety of the 2020-2021 academic year. The poor social distancing practices exhibited in our country give me very slight hopes of returning to Dartmouth in-person in the near future. In this sense, I sympathize with Griffin: I want the town of Hanover to be safe. More than anything, I long to return to the community I love, that I consider home.

However, to villainize the Dartmouth student body is not the solution. An article from The Atlantic argues that “shaming and threatening students will only obstruct public-health efforts,” as it pits students against the remainder of the community. This rings true: I, along with the rest of the student body, have become increasingly frustrated with communications that divide “students” and “community members.” Are we not all just one Hanover community? When students vacated Hanover this spring, some businesses struggled and closed. And while in Hanover, students host productions, compete in athletic events and organize academic discussions, contributing to the entire community. We love Hanover as much as any resident; acrimoniously labeling us as parasites that threaten the community is unjustified. If the town of Hanover and the College wish to protect the Upper Valley, they cannot invoke language that excludes Dartmouth students from the Hanover community.

Yes, some students have sadly failed to socially distance. However, students are not the only people failing to uphold this responsibility: my friends living in Hanover have seen local “community members”— Hanover High School students and Hanover residents — failing to socially distance and wear masks. Students are therefore not the sole offenders; those lucky enough to be thought of as “community residents” have disregarded their responsibility as well. 

Furthermore, insinuating that the students who remain in Hanover are privileged and ignorant is misguided. Many property managers in Hanover refused to release students from their contracts for off-campus houses this summer. As they did not have the option to forfeit the funds used to secure these leases, some students in tricky financial situations were thus forced to remain in Hanover over the summer. 

I understand the concern about the community contracting the virus. I cannot sleep at night, terrified that food my parents purchased could be contaminated. I respect the town manager for striving to protect Hanover and agree wholeheartedly with encouraging the Hanover community to social distance. Where I take issue is with the venomous and divisive language she used to address the student body. Students are not the virus; COVID-19 is. Social distancing is a personal responsibility that the entire Hanover community must share. This includes the Dartmouth student body, the residents of Hanover and the Dartmouth administration, faculty and staff. 

We cannot win the battle against COVID-19 if we constantly blame and attack each other. To keep the community safe, we must remain as a community — socially distanced apart but fighting together. Vilifying the Dartmouth student body by deeming us outsiders causes much more harm than good. I urge all in Hanover to uphold the responsibility to socially distance. At the same time, however, I urge Griffin to recognize students as members of her community, for a house divided against itself cannot stand.

Sanz is a member of the Class of 2022. 

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