The Power of Individual Action

Our decisions have community-wide consequences, especially during a pandemic—consider others before you party.

By Maya Ordonez

In normal times, I am a proponent of fraternity parties; they provide students with an outlet and can occasionally be fun. Yet, we are far from living in normal times, and recent actions by students distance us even more from returning to normalcy. With that being said, I believe that the onus is not only on the fraternities. Although they are responsible for hosting the party, we can’t place the blame entirely on one person or group. By attending UChicago, each student assumes a responsibility towards our community; actions taken by students a few weeks ago put residential deans, fellow students, and our shared future at the University at risk.

The morning after receiving the news of the campus-wide shutdown, I opened my inbox to an announcement sent by one of my professors. It read, “We were already living in an extraordinarily stressful moment—with regard to the pandemic, various forms of violence and discrimination, and lots and lots of other events and factors. As someone who lives in a dorm as an RD, last night’s email really intensified that stress for me.” Reading this email made my heart sink. In past lectures, my professor had laughed about how he would do his best to teach despite his five- and seven-year-old daughters running around in the background, uploaded two separate hour-long lectures with comprehensive PowerPoints, and was super enthusiastic overall. In his next lecture, he dolefully remarked how he was pressed for time with all the additional meetings revolving around the outbreak which caused him to lecture on a “Saturday morning in sweatpants” rather than on a “Friday afternoon in more formal business attire.” Although it may not have seemed like it in the moment, that “small” fraternity party has had immense repercussions for our whole community, not just for anyone who chose to attend. People like my professor are forced to find ways to cope on a personal level, aid the undergraduates within the dorms, and, for many, continue teaching. This puts an unfair burden on both residential deans and heads. I cannot imagine what it would be like to explain to my two daughters that they could not go outside because a group of students knowingly broke University, city, and state protocol just to host a party.

It’s also crucial to understand that the University has the capability to revoke its decision to hold autumn quarter in person. The language of the email was conditional—not absolute. We will only resume our in-person education “IF the state of the pandemic and the health of our community allow.” As we have seen over the course of the year, especially in response to the new outbreak, the University will act to protect our community as a whole, even if this means reverting to remote learning. This community is composed of students, in addition to professors, dining hall staff, librarians, and too many others to list. In our current reality, and as members of this community, the actions we take must consider all of these individuals, not merely ourselves. Hosting and attending parties, and causing outbreaks as a result, are not community-conscious actions, and these are exactly the types of actions that prove to the University that its students are not responsible enough to follow its guidelines. The University will not hesitate to reconsider, adapt, or shut down in accordance with the actions that we, as students, take. Be mindful that one party can send a message far louder than music played in any dingy, beer-stained basement.

Do a few rounds of beer pong, lukewarm conversation, and awkward dance moves truly outshine the light at the end of the tunnel? I hope the answer to this question is no. Ultimately, though, no matter what I think or hope, the way you impact our community is up to you—every individual is inevitably responsible for themselves and their own actions. All I can do is urge you to consider your actions in the context of UChicago as a whole; remember, each action you take is the beginning of a long chain of consequences that reaches far beyond you.

Maya Ordonez is a second-year in the College.