Last Sunday morning, the pastor of the local church I have been attending opened the service with a prayer thanking God for the gift of living in a country where we could gather together as a congregation and lift songs to the Lord in perfect freedom; this was delivered on the heels of his announcement that due to threats of student consequences from the University of Wyoming, they would be canceling the college Bible study indefinitely.
I would like to thank the University for helping me, as Dr. Jordan Peterson would say, find my teeth. I have been engaged in only soft rebellion against you, teething on your policies of prevention and threats of suspension without stepping out into the light. But last Sunday, my teeth have broken through the soft barriers around what is true, and I now find myself dangerous — dangerous to your institution because I am evidence of a growing restlessness in the student body that feeds at your great altar of education. A growing populous inoculated to your regulations, I represent an incoming of student unwillingness to bend under the weight of your perceived power.
One reason I chose your institution over any competition was because I believed in the statement “Bucking the System since 1886.” The statement is posted above the doorways of your campus, the way we’re called to post scriptures, so naturally I thought the sentiment was gospel.
I now see that the motto should be replaced with an epitaph, since that sentiment has died. The headstone would read ‘from 1886 to 2020,’ or did you even stand your ground that long? The slogan appealed to me because I deeply wanted to believe that there was one institution left that would honor students as individuals, rather than a numbered collective. What I found instead on your campus was fear-mongering, confusion, isolation and corner-cutting to uphold your unachievable plan to eradicate the virus.
I was part of the team that helped install washers/dryers in the basements of condemned buildings being transformed into dormitories. The University would rather risk exposing students to asbestos than a virus with a 6% mortality rate.
You put the hand sanitizer and fresh mask stations behind locked doors, and made moveable barricades the new bookstore entrance. Obviously these are just hoops we are expected to jump through in the name of the school appearing to have everything under control, but all you have successfully done is lock students out of their education.
And for students like me who work on campus, you have also locked us out of our livelihood without warning. The five-day hiatus you imposed on student jobs declared ‘nonessential’ is a significant cause of anxiety for students working jobs already kept at under forty hours per week.
I live off campus and pay my own way while attending school full-time. What would you leave the self-reliant students to do?
The church here has made compromises. From discontinuing foyer coffee, to online sermons, to prepackaged communion offerings, they have taken the steps to protect their congregation without closing their doors completely. The University has taken the opposite approach, locking their doors, closing students in their dormitories and asking them to take responsibility for the health of the entire campus on their shoulders. This Bible study group hosts less than ten students on average. Most of them, if not all, live off campus.
All of the students involved are sovereign adults coming to the study on their own volition, so on what authority do you come against this Bible study? On what grounds do you revoke our right to follow our own conscience?
By threatening to suspend students for attending, you have crossed into the territory of acting as the owner of your students. You have applied power where you have none, and it will not stand untested.
How long do you believe that you can regularly test us, lock us down at a moment’s notice, then keep us in utter isolation? Our youth is often held against us, in the workplace, in our places of education, as consumers, and even just in casual conversation. Our elders often desire to control our lives, citing our lack of experience as validation for their controlling actions.
The actions of the University of Wyoming make it clear that they see us as naughty, uncontrollable children that should be locked in a big box for our own protection.
The only question is, will we comply?
Samantha Townsend is a transfer student to UW majoring in Art and Zoology
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