Editorial: Hopes for 2021 from the perspective of a young college student

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Heather Mann

At midnight on Jan. 1, 2020, I was at Goat Island listening to the band perform with my dad and thinking about the year ahead. Even in my wildest dreams, I don’t think I could’ve predicted how things actually turned out.

My spring break stay at home turned into an early move-out from my residence at Auburn (no point in living at school when you don’t have to go to class in person and all your friends are stuck at home, too). Zoom became my new school, club meeting place and gaming hangout. My peers and I watched as the country underwent a civil rights crisis that continued for months – some of us even participating in or organizing demonstrations of our own – and we did what we could to hold our university accountable for making sure that all students are given an equitable opportunity for education. Half of my peers struggled during this past semester due to any combination of factors – isolation in quarantine, health issues, being stuck with unsupportive family, technology issues, professors who were unsympathetic toward students with technology issues (a surprising number of professors seem to think that all college students have enough money to just “buy a better computer” or “move somewhere with a better signal”), trouble adapting to online learning and so many other factors that made this semester a lot harder on most folks than other semesters.

Of course, I can’t forget the elephant in the room: while all this was happening, a pandemic raged across the world. While many other countries managed to contain their cases and return to “normal” after a few months, my friends here had to spend most of the year isolated away from other people – and their own families in many cases – because too many people either were unable to take safe measures (no compensation for time off work to quarantine and no measures in place to help them pay rent meant too many people had to choose between keeping their house at the risk of constant exposure or quarantining at the risk of being evicted for not paying rent) or refusing to take safe measures altogether (we all saw too many pictures and videos of bars and Greek Life parties in downtown Auburn where unmasked people were packed in like sardines). Even with the release of the Pfizer vaccine, health experts will be studying the aftermath of COVID-19 and how it affects the body long-term for decades to come.

Fortunately, there are some silver linings among these dark clouds. Online gaming hangouts make it easier to add sound effects and show battle maps for games. Some professors were understanding and sympathetic toward students and adjusted their courses to lessen the stress of the workload. I found time to work on a lot of different recipes that I hadn’t tried before, I finally got caught the chance to catch up on all the shows I said I’d watch, and for the most part my friends and family are still in good health. Given the year we’re all leaving behind, my hopes for the upcoming year are setting the bar so low it’s on the ground.

  1. Compassion and equitable working conditions

The widespread use of online working and learning has shown that there are a lot of assignments that can be completed without having to leave the house. For years, people with disabilities and chronic conditions as well as people with long commutes have had issues with companies not being able to let them work from home, saying it was not possible for them to be as productive as necessary without them being physically present at the office or classroom. Here’s hoping that this year will show people that these accommodations, if properly implemented, can be viable working options and that employers and instructors will continue allowing at-home work in the coming year.

In a similar vein, here’s hoping that next year will have employers and instructors be more understanding toward people when it comes to taking time off to recover from illness. Hopefully, this with is self-explanatory.

  1. Respect for facts and honesty in representing those facts

The only phrase I’ve heard more than “unprecedented times” this year was “fake news,” and the widespread misinformation and disinformation about all the issues we’ve faced this year has only made that phrase that much more common. While the best case scenario for 2021 would be that people actually believe the words of experts who spend years studying specific topics, I’ll settle for journalistic honesty in representing the sides of an issue. Many people think that honest journalism means representing all sides of an argument or issue as equal, but that’s a false sense of equivalence. True honesty is representing the facts as they are – 1,000 experts who say one thing and 10 experts who say another do not hold the same weight, and claiming that they are equally true is a gross misrepresentation. Here’s hoping that 2021 will give facts and information a better standing.

  1. Accountability

A lot of good work was accomplished in 2020 in terms of holding people in power accountable for their words and actions, but we still have a long way to go. People at all levels need to be held accountable for the promises they make – your city council should be held to its promise to serve the city, your employer who promises safe working conditions should be held to that promise, your school administrators (both primary schooling and higher education) who say they support equal opportunity to a safe and equitable education should be held to that standard. Here’s hoping that people will take steps to get involved – attending council meetings, contacting their legislators, reporting unsafe business practices, working with their student governments – and keep people accountable for their words and actions in the coming year.

  1. Safety and comfort

I know things like this can’t be solved overnight, but it never hurts to hope. I hope that next year, my Asian friends can walk around campus without having people confront them about how they’re responsible for COVID and how China is trying to take over the country (regardless of whether or not the person is actually of Chinese descent). I hope that next year, my Black friends can walk around Toomer’s Corner after dark without people shouting racial slurs at them from passing cars. I hope that next year, my Jewish and Muslim friends will be able to go the whole year without seeing their places of worship vandalized, or hearing “kind and compassionate Christians” on campus shouting at them about the eternal torture that awaits them unless they convert, or worrying about what kind of hate crimes they might experience on their holy days.

Next year, I hope I can feel safe in going out to eat with my all friends and talking about our favorite new TV shows while we wait for our food to arrive. I hope I can attend SGA meetings again and meet my college’s representatives in the Student Senate because I never got the chance to introduce myself this past semester. I hope my Senior Design project goes well and I end up with a good recommendation for whichever company I end up designing for, and I hope that all my friends can help me celebrate my graduation in December. 

I hope 2021 brings comfort, happiness and positive change to everyone. God bless, and Happy New Year.

Heather Mann

 

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Heather Mann

heather@cullmantribune.com