Opinion: Students, as we start the school year during a global pandemic, let’s not forget that it didn’t have to be this way.

As we start school under these less-than-ideal circumstances (to put it lightly), let’s not forget that it didn’t have to be this bad.

The start of classes, which are normally filled with energy and excitement, are now instead filled with anxiety and dread. Every one of us is dealing with a uniquely challenging set of circumstances. I’m worried about virtual classes compromising the quality of my education. I’m worried about the possibility of spreading the virus to my family members who are high-risk. And I’m worried about how the long-term effects of the pandemic on learning will inevitably widen the opportunity gap.
As we start school under these less-than-ideal circumstances (to put it lightly), let’s not forget that it didn’t have to be this bad.
The Trump administration had all summer to mitigate the effects of the virus and “flatten the curve.” Instead, Trump constantly downplayed the seriousness of COVID, refused to implement a mask mandate, and failed to implement a national testing plan. His Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, recently said that the pandemic was “a good thing” for schools.
As a Spanish and Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation student who was supposed to spend this year studying in the field but is now managing dissection-based labs over Zoom, I can tell you that there is no way this pandemic has been a good thing for schools, nor for us as students.
Trump’s failure to control COVID hasn’t just impacted the quality of our college education –it’s cost thousands of lives.
It didn’t have to be this bad, but it also doesn’t have to stay this bad. I certainly don’t blame Trump for the virus. But I do blame him for the response. He could have visited with families or talking about how the virus is disproportionately affecting communities of color, shining a light on systemic inequities that have existed for a long time.
It has made me realize that I – and everyone else who’s eligible to vote – have the power and the privilege to change things.
We have the power to vote for someone who, as president, will institute a national testing plan and a mask mandate; someone who will listen to scientists and not conspiracy theorists; and someone who will set a national standard for colleges to follow instead of leaving them to fend for themselves. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have an actual plan to get COVID under control. More than that though, they’ll be honest and transparent with us on the facts around this virus.
This summer has taught many of us that systemic injustice in America won’t end without structural change and that voting is just one avenue we have to create that change.
However, especially when facing a crisis in which competent, determined leadership will literally save thousands of lives, it would be irresponsible of us not to recognize the power of voting and not to use it.
I want actual change, and I want better for my fellow students, our professors and University staff. It shouldn’t take a pandemic and massive changes in our lives to demand this change, but that is our reality. Still, it’s an opportunity to elect better and more proven leaders, and the choice couldn’t be more clear.
This guest column has been lightly edited for style and clarity.
This guest column was submitted by Hannah Paavola, a University of Minnesota student studying Spanish and Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology