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Staff Editorial: As the semester comes to an end, reflect on lessons learned during COVID-19

Classes are ending, finals are nearing, summer is approaching and vaccination rates are rising across the country. In this period of transition, it is tempting to let out a sigh of relief and never look back on this strange year, but reflecting on lessons we have learned during COVID-19 may help us create a better future. Of these lessons, one central theme emerges—being more cognizant and respectful of others and our surrounding communities.

In a literal sense, COVID-19 has taught us to consider the health of those around us. Wearing a mask has become a practical way to protect others from sickness, and this could continue in a post-pandemic context. But considering the well-being of those around us can be extended beyond sickness. As students, we are a part of a variety of communities—friend groups, clubs, our campus and the broader St. Louis area, as well as the communities that many of us travel to in the summer. Considering how to be a better and more considerate community member may vary in each context.

The pandemic has showcased many inequalities in our society and within our university. Being cognizant of these issues involves more than just awareness: Listen to marginalized voices, attend protests and participate in students’ demands. As a student, being aware of areas in which the University can improve in order to help marginalized students is an essential part of being a member of the Wash. U. community. Don’t be afraid to take action or allow your voice to be heard.

As Wash. U. students, we aren’t just members of the University: We are also a part of the broader St. Louis community. During COVID-19, we have worn masks to limit the spread of the virus both on and off campus. As we ideally transition away from the pandemic, that consideration for others doesn’t go away, even if it may not be in the literal sense of mask-wearing. Actively contribute to the St. Louis community. Listen to and boost the demands of residents by engaging with local activism. Understand the history of St. Louis and the relationship between our university and the city. If you have the means, tip waiters and Uber drivers, support local businesses and donate to mutual aid funds. 

Vaccination is a way to protect yourself while also protecting the communities you interact with. If you have not been vaccinated and you are able to do so, get vaccinated. If you have received your first dose, remember that you are not instantly protected—depending on the vaccine, it can take from two weeks to over a month to achieve maximum immunity. 

As we transition into the summer, our communities will extend beyond those within our University and in the St. Louis area. Remember that Wash. U. has a high international student population, and many students live in places with a lower rate of vaccination and higher rate of infection than St. Louis. By getting vaccinated and wearing masks, we can do our part to help students return to their families safely. Additionally, consider the implications of your summer travel plans. Putting certain travel plans on hold may be for the best when considering communities that stretch beyond international borders. While nearly half of Americans have received at least one dose of the vaccine, many low-income countries have struggled to gather the same number of vaccines that the U.S. and other wealthy countries have amassed. While vaccination numbers in America give reason for optimism, centering our experience ignores the fact that the pandemic has had global implications.

Being cognizant of others also applies to individual interactions. The pandemic can take a toll on one’s mental health: A recent 2020 study found that college students, who already endure high levels of mental health problems, have been experiencing increased levels of anxiety during the pandemic. Check in on your friends and be sensitive towards their mental health needs. Be considerate of your own mental health as well—COVID-19 has taught us to care not only for the health of others, but also for our own health and safety. 

As we near the end of the semester, take some time to reflect. How can we be better St. Louis residents? Better Wash. U. students? Better friends? In this transitional period, we must remind ourselves of the importance of becoming better and more considerate community members.

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