Nov 6, 2020 | OPINION | By Angelina Chen | Illustration by Sidney Derzon
In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Colorado College administration created the COVID-19 Emergency Response Team to set up plans to combat the spread of the virus on the CC campus. For students on-campus, this may seem like an adequate source of information and support to ensure their safety.
However, after examining the language used in COVID weekly reports in a class with Dr. Chantal Figueroa, I urge the COVID response team to rethink and reframe their approach in handling the global health crisis at CC.
Since late August, all CC students have been receiving weekly COVID-19 reports from CC Communications. These reports consist of updates on protocols, campus activities, community standards, and testing results of CC community members. As of the third week of Block 3, we have received nine such reports in total (Aug. 31; Sept. 7, 14, 21, 28; Oct. 5, 12, 19, 26).
As part of Dr. Chantal Figueroa’s course in “Global Health: Biosocial Perspectives,” my class focused on dissecting the language in the Oct. 26 report, using a method called critical discourse analysis. This analytical approach highlights how underlying assumptions are reproduced through the language of these official reports and how power is maneuvered at CC.
After examining this report, I would like to share two takeaways from my class and propose a different approach in framing CC’s response in particular and the pandemic in general as a part of the CC community.
First, the pandemic is depicted as a security issue in these reports, not an issue of well-being or mutual care. On the one hand, the word “health” is repeated five times, all followed by nouns such as “order,” “measures”, “safety protocols,” “agencies,” and “check.”
On the other hand, not a single mention of the word “care” and “well-being” was found in last week’s report. In fact, among all nine reports, only the first one published on Aug. 31 ever mentioned the word “care.” It says, “These students [who received positive test results] are receiving care and support, and we wish them well.”
The absence of the word “care” in most reports should alarm us as CC students. Health and well-being are never only about the absence of diseases and viruses and the official lexicon of the CC administration obscures the importance of mutual support. Instead, the highly bureaucratic language around health indicates the necessity of policing our bodies as students on CC’s property, as opposed to the necessity of caring for each other as human beings.
Second, the emphasis on students’ role in combating the spread of the virus shifts the responsibility of staying healthy to each student. In the Oct. 26 COVID weekly report, “you” and “your” are both found 20 times. Meanwhile, the word “community” was only repeated five times.
Even though COVID-19 transmits within and across communities of people, the language of the report shifts the responsibility of maintaining public health from communal efforts to individual obligations. In so doing, the administration exempts itself from the responsibility of providing a safe and inclusive environment to all students as it suggests that it is solely the student’s responsibility to be safe and comply with the rules.
While recognizing the importance of practicing social distancing and wearing masks, I maintain that life in a pandemic should be about communal well-being. The response team should turn away from the question of whether the institution is complying with protocols. Such an approach renders invisible the experiences of students and community members who already face structural oppression in everyday lives, experience housing/food insecurities, or have to work in-person to make ends meet. Without a plan that centralizes the well-being of the community, staying healthy is essentially a form of labor that disproportionally affects minority students in this predominantly white institution.
I hope to open up the dialogue about potential ways to uplift student voices and experiences in a virtual environment during the pandemic. But first, I urge the COVID Emergency Response Team to critically examine its approach and language in responding to the public health crisis. Though precaution in public health can be reactive, we can also be proactive in maintaining relationships and caring for each other through this uncertain time.