Stronger together

Michelle Wulfson | The ItemThe Huntsville Pride and Black Lives Matter groups gathered on the grounds of the Walker County Courthouse Friday evening for a peaceful protest and a 10 minute candlelight vigil of silence. 

To Sam Houston State University,

As citizens of Walker County and members of the local Huntsville community, we ask that you reconsider your plan to re-open the campus of Sam Houston State University this fall. We can speak only for our organization, but we also speak from a place of compassion and sympathy for the students, staff, and faculty that have objected to your decision and have been met with cold dismissal.

Members of your university do not feel safe returning in person this fall and you have let their concerns fall on deaf ears while the city you work in has declared this pandemic a disaster.

The university must be proactive in their handling of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. You yourself work under the instruction to “cultivate a continually sensitive and proactive response to the ever-changing needs of our constituents.”

At this moment, your constituents need you to understand the danger you are placing them in. Immunocompromised and elderly employees in particular run an increased risk of contracting and dying from the disease that will be allowed to run rampant through the university. Within weeks, around 13,000 (if not more) students will be moving here from around the state to attend school physically, in the midst of the uptick in positive cases and deaths here in Huntsville.

Sending students, staff, and faculty to school with your new guidelines that require face-to-face instruction will endanger the lives of not only these SHSU members, but the entire Huntsville community as well. Also, it would be remiss of us to fail to mention that SHSU has reported 90 cases within the last 2 months and this is without the campus being at full operation. Re-opening the campus this fall will be a catalyst for the virus to continue to spread throughout the county and even throughout neighboring counties by taking into consideration those who commute to campus.

Another thing to consider is the upcoming slashing of indigent healthcare in the local community. Although historically a robust program in Walker County, helping 100% of those beneath the poverty line, “under the newly proposed plan, Walker County’s indigent care program would drop eligibility for basic health services to 50% of the federal poverty level.”

This places an additional burden on the community and one that will only be exacerbated by the reopening of the campus. In addition, we must keep in mind that this pandemic has disproportionately affected your neighbors in the Black and Hispanic communities.

We have just now reached the point where our county “has reported less than 15 new community cases of the coronavirus.” But even with this in mind, the positivity rate is continuing to climb in Texas. For these reasons, it will be of no benefit to our community for the university to proceed as currently planned. It will be of no benefit to our community to merely be reactive in the midst of this pandemic. To do so, after all we have witnessed and currently understand of this virus thus far, is asinine.

All of our local citizens should be remembered and counted as those who we should be supporting proactively. If we are to be “challenged to continually improve and help become an exemplary campus for community engagement,” then those at the university must lead by example and keep the campus closed. If not for the entire semester, then at least for a considerable period this fall. We state this on behalf of not only ourselves, but also out of concern for students, teachers, church members, community members, and neighbors.

Whether we are tackling issues of history (confederate monuments) or of public health and safety (the coronavirus pandemic), we cannot stay silent. We cannot stay silent because we are at dis-ease with this disease. And whenever we feel this dis-ease, we have to speak on it--because silence is violence.

SHSU has the chance to protect and save lives in this community/statewide fight against the COVID-19 pandemic by either staying closed this semester or delaying the plans to restart. The university, our community, our city, our county, and our state cannot afford to be reactive.

For the sake of our lives and livelihood. Let us all instead be proactive in this fight against the virus so that months, and even years from now, we will not look back and say, “well...hindsight is 2020…”