photo courtesy of St. Bonaventure University
By Nic Gelyon
ST. BONAVENTURE, NY – Dr. Xiao-Ning Zhang has her students undergo a repetitive process each time they enter her room.
Cleaning and washing hands have become habits for her students. Something they don’t need to think about anymore. They just do it.
“I think they are comfortable doing it right now, so it’s kind of a habit for them,” said Zhang, a biology professor at St. Bonaventure University. “I’m really happy to see students starting to have this habit.”
Zhang has helped foster a level of comfortability among her students, and communication and understanding seem to be key in students taking safety precautions seriously.
“It’s expected, there will be cases on campus,” she said. “When it happens, how are we going to respond? That’s critical. This has to be a very timely response… contact tracing the right away because time is of the essence.”
Response, according to Zhang, is used as a scientific and administrative code word that means “do the right thing.”
The university and the community have both announced their plans for response to a potential COVID-19 outbreak. Students now bear the responsibility of responding in the way that works for them.
But the slight look of worry on Zhang’s face captured her dissatisfaction with the way the university communicated with and educated its students, staff and faculty, as she began to speak about the difficult position in which resident assistants and residence directors have been placed.
“I don’t know if they all have been educated enough to educate others,” Zhang said. “They don’t understand why. They can’t explain [COVID-19], they just say that’s what the university told us. But usually, that’s not very effective in communication.”
Therein lies the dilemma. How much do students really know about COVID-19? How much does the public know? And how can students be expected to act if no one has ever showed them how?
“If information goes up, response has to go up,” Zhang said. “Information can go up and people don’t do anything with it. That doesn’t mean anything. So, awareness is the first step, and response is the second step. And then you will see results.”
From her point of view, imposing fines and judicial hearings simply cannot be the answer. Because if awareness is not first created among students who don’t know the first thing about coronavirus, a lackluster response is almost inevitable.
“It’s not like if weekends are off, Coronavirus is off,” Zhang said. “No, they are never off. So, we need to understand that coronavirus doesn’t go by weekend or weekday.”
Zhang made two things abundantly clear. The first: COVID-19 is not over.
Society can’t claim it did its job, then just go back to normal life. For Zhang, the response must continue for as long as people are dying from the virus.
The second? There is no better time than the present for everyone to improve their response to the disease.