By Jack Sparkman
On Wednesday, September 1, at 7:00 pm, 17 students entered the Gailor Auditorium while nine more joined from a Zoom call for the first town hall of the year, hosted by the Order of the Gown and the Student Government Association of the University of the South.
The OG (Order of the Gown) and the SGA (Student Government Association) hosted this event congruently to answer questions from the student body, inform the campus of their ongoing projects, and update the student body about the current COVID-19 outbreak on campus. At the time, 24 people were known to test positive for COVID-19. At posting , 55 positive cases of the disease have been identified to the student body.
After opening the panel to a silent audience for general questions, Alexis McKnight, president of the Order of the Gown, reiterated that the University would be not continuing the COVID-19 policy of the 2020-2021 academic calendar. Taking the place of #ProtectTheBubble, the student leadership stressed personal responsibility in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Everybody needs to get vaccinated,” Lakiesha Phillips, SGA president, said. “A lot of the world is attempting to go back to a normal, and I don’t think it’s something we can continuously do is, is stay in this bubble,” Alexis McKnight added. She continued, “We’re all adults on this campus.”
These comments were made days before the Saturday, September 4 email in which Vice-Chancellor Reuben Brigety announced a major shift in campus COVID-19 related policy.
In it, Vice-Chancellor Brigety announced, “The University will no longer require that students leave campus to quarantine or isolate. Students who test positive for COVID-19 will need to decide whether they need to leave campus for treatment or convalescence, or if they are able to isolate in their rooms. The University will not provide quarantine or isolation space.”
Franklin County, where the University of the South resides, has a COVID-19 vaccination rate of only 39.15% for at least one dose, and 33.28% of those are fully vaccinated. The Delta variant has rushed through Tennessee and the surrounding areas in the past few weeks alone, which concerns some of the student leadership.
At the time of the Town Hall, Ben Hatfield, parliamentarian of the OG said, “If the situation [COVID-19 cases] started to look like an exponential line, local healthcare infrastructure would look concerning.”
A similar sentiment was shared at the time by Phillips, “Personally, for myself, I am concerned. Seniors, they might get sent home.”
Now that the University’s policies have shifted, many have called for an open dialogue between the administration and the student body. At the time of posting, another town hall hosted congruently with the SGA and the OG is being planned. Multiple student leaders are collecting and documenting student opinion to convey it to the administration of the University.
The OG and SGA continue their work with student organizations. The Order of the Gown is implementing a new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion officer in their ranks. The OG continues its campaign with the Roberson project to change the names, which might have a problematic racial past, on many buildings on campus.
As the SGA begins convening on campus, they are preparing for the upcoming SGA elections by hosting a Freshmen Interest Meeting on September 12.
The OG and SGA request that many students reach out to their social media presences or email accounts to convey their concerns regarding the COVID-19 policy changes or otherwise.