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Why this matters

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The night my aunt died, another group of students in my building threw a party.

We had known she was dying for some time. All the details had been hammered out for some time: where she’d be laid to rest, who would give the eulogy, what to do with her belongings. The only question for me, the night she passed, was what I was going to do about the party downstairs.

I’m a senior, and COVID-19 has taken so many things from all of us. I didn’t and still don’t know anything about the two guys who live below me, besides that like the rest of us they enjoy trap music and Fortnite Kid remixes, and every other week or so, they host big parties with more than 10 people.

For a long time, I was sympathetic to my fellow students, who like me are living a college experience that we never expected to have. That night, as I fought back my tears, listening to the booming bass of their dance remixes permeate into my apartment, I kept to that sympathy. "These poor guys," I thought. "Who am I to break up their fun?" 

It’s tempting after a year of hell and misery, isolation and struggle, and constant, constant death, to regard your happiness—any happiness—as a rare commodity. Candy, binge-watching and simple pleasures are the tools we have to combat the isolation. When my neighbors kept me up that night and all those Saturday nights, I rationalized their decision to violate Duke and North Carolina guidelines as a simple pleasure of a similar kind, as innocent as an extra slice of cake, or another episode of Bridgerton. Harmless fun.

I gave Duke students throwing parties a pass in a way I denied myself. When I flew to my aunt’s funeral, I quarantined two weeks before and two weeks after, going beyond Duke’s recommended guidelines to ensure that my elderly uncle, mourning the death of his wife of 63 years, wouldn’t succumb to COVID-19, and to protect my fellow students from anything I brought back from the plane. At my aunt’s funeral, I kept my mask on at all times, including the eulogy. 

I have seen students respond to outrage at in-person rush activities and the subsequent lockdown with irritation. COVID-19 isn’t a life-or-death situation anymore, a student writes to the Duke Confessions Facebook page, and there’s no one left to hurt.

This isn’t true. Forget the senior theses ruined by a week of lost lab work, the athletic competitions Duke athletes have been barred from attending which have prevented them from qualifying for national competitions, the student workers losing a week of income, or the opportunities for a real senior year us members of the Class of 2021 have left lost to a week of rotting in our dorms—COVID-19 is still killing people. I mean this both in reference to the 500,000+ Americans we’ve lost this past year, and you, the infected fraternity brothers reading this. We have no idea the effects of COVID-19 long term, and we’ve already seen survivors suffer permanent lung damage and neurological effects that can and will affect you later on.

When your test results come back negative after a quarantine, or even over months of continued safe practices and continued negative results, it’s tempting to think of the time you spent in isolation as lost time. But it’s not. More than ever, I am convinced that quarantining that two weeks before my aunt’s funeral was the necessary step to protect my own family. The Durham Interfraternity Council events this past week could have happened at any time, and they can happen again unless we all adhere to the Duke Compact.

I’m still sympathetic to my peers throwing parties. But it’s time to admit that we haven’t lost out on the college experience. This is the college experience now. We can choose to adapt to that, or we can cling to the past, resent our lot in life, and continue to hurt others and ourselves.

In-person events and partying are not the innocent “treat yourself” pleasure you think they are. I pray that the young men infected right now never have to know what it’s like to lose someone during COVID-19. To weep so much your mask becomes drenched in your tears and it feels like you are literally drowning in your grief. To be unable to hold your grieving grandmother without knowing if your touch could kill her,  because despite your precautions, and despite your carefulness, you could have caught something on the plane that could end her life. For those students who commute and see their family, hold jobs in the Durham community, or even just want to protect themselves and their immunocompromised peers, we all depend on our mutual trust in each other to be safe. That is what was at stake this past week, and I hope that those who have hosted parties realize this during the lockdown. And for the rest of us, the next time you see a violation: Call it out. I know I will.

Nicole Lindbergh is a Trinty senior.

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