Opinion: The Hardest Days Since Becoming a Student at Gettysburg College
By DJ Danny Ziegler, contributing writer
Gettysburg College reassures me that they care about my mental and physical health, but when I am kicked off campus with less than 24 hours’ notice, I question where the college’s priorities lie.
I petitioned to stay on campus. The college clearly stated in the de-densification email that “students identified as eligible to remain on campus will be notified by College personnel today.” I was not notified by the end of the day. I had less than 24 hours to pack up and leave. I felt numb. My head was flooded with thoughts that I did not know how to deal with. I know many of my friends felt very similar. My parents were worried sick. My dad almost drove on campus and start knocking on doors because he thought it was too late, and to be honest, it almost was.
I went to the student protest on Saturday morning at Penn Hall but could not hear any of the questions or answers without breaking the social distancing guidelines. I simply went back to my room, quickly loaded my stuff into my vehicle and sped off campus. I could not formulate any words to ask any employees face-to-face for help. I simply packed up my belongings and got out, just as the email instructed me to.
A few of my peers said “you’re lucky you don’t have far to go” when talking to me about the College’s de-densification plan. It is true — my childhood house is just 10 minutes away from campus — but I could not get myself to go there. I was wishing I had a long drive home so that I could have had time to process everything. Instead, I drove hundreds of miles around the Gettysburg area, afraid and upset. I was afraid that I would bring COVID-19 back to my immunocompromised family. I was upset for my fellow students and the hardships they are facing. I felt helpless.
President Iuliano concludes the de-densification email with a section titled “Moving Forward.” In this section, he attempts to provide a statement of comfort. “For the members of our remote cohort—our sophomores, juniors, and especially our seniors—I understand how deeply you will miss living, learning, and interacting on this campus.” With all due respect, there is no way you could come remotely close to understanding what we are feeling. You have been a part of the Gettysburg community for just over one year now.
I have lived in Gettysburg for 21 years. This place is in my blood. I dreamed of coming to Gettysburg College since I was young. I saw something in the college community that I wanted to be a part of, and now I can say it has changed my life. As a first-generation college student, Gettysburg College has provided me with an environment for an astronomical amount of self-growth. I have accomplished many firsts in my time here as a Gettysburgian. I published and presented student-faculty research at a conference in Hawaii, I studied and interned for a semester abroad, and I just received my first full time employment offer following graduation. I have been able to experience the amazing power of the Gettysburg Network. This power is something that every student deserves to be a part of during their time at Gettysburg.
In conclusion, I want to challenge President Iuliano, the Board of Trustees, and medical experts to alter the equations used for evaluating the public health of the college to prioritize students’ mental health. In addition, I would like to ask that the College re-evaluate the events occurring in Gettysburg before evacuating approximately 1,300 students from campus on a holiday weekend. Students had obscenities shouted at them including “go home and take your COVID a** with you,” “we don’t want COVID in our town,” and other harassing language. This is not the Gettysburg I grew up in. There is no reason that any student should have to deal with the hate that visited the town of Gettysburg this summer. The college needs to protect us from events like this, especially after causing so much emotional turmoil.
I would now like to challenge my fellow students. Look at this as an opportunity to use your Gettysburg education for the greater good. Use your voices to lift each other up. Take the time this week to strengthen and grow your Gettysburg Network. Now more than ever, the value of a Gettysburg degree is in our hands.
We were reminded at the conclusion of the Town Hall meeting to “Do Great Care.” Actions speak louder than words. How will we provide care for our community moving forward?