I’m very proud to be from Rochester.
I’m proud of Rochester’s history, decorated with figures like Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony. I’m proud to have graduated from the Rochester City School District which, despite its problems, molded me into the person I am today. I’m proud to be from a city that’s so culturally diverse. Even our nasally accents bring me a little bit of joy.
But I’m also pretty scared for Rochester right now.
Every day, we’re bombarded with new stories of colleges around the country shutting down due to COVID-19 outbreaks, only days or weeks into classes. I’d like to think this couldn’t happen to UR, in a region and state where the virus has been so well controlled, but of course it could.
But the most important thing to remember about UR is that (even though it feels like it sometimes) UR doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Rochester is a college town. The University is the city’s largest employer. The residential quad is only a stone’s throw away from the 19th Ward, where UR students also live. An outbreak on campus could very easily bleed into the rest of Rochester.
I fear that the 19th Ward would be particularly vulnerable. Its population is largely people of color, and the median income is around $35,000. The 19th Ward houses the exact demographic that is suffering the most from COVID-19 due to racial discrimination, racial wealth gaps, and difficulties accessing quality healthcare.
The people who live in Rochester deserve respect. I hope you’re wearing your mask all around Rochester, socially distancing from your fellow students and Rochestarians, and washing your hands frequently.
There is a special kind of irony in a student receiving the privilege of a higher education transmitting a deadly disease to some of the most vulnerable people in the nation.
I want everyone to feel as connected to Rochester as I do. But just until COVID-19 is no longer a serious threat, I have a request to make: When you enter Rochester, think of it as entering someone else’s house. You are, in a very real way, entering the home of over 200,000 people.
When you enter someone’s home, you follow their rules. You acknowledge that you’re a guest in another person’s permanent living space, and you respect that space. You don’t just make a mess and then leave.
If they ask you to take your shoes off before coming inside, you do that. So whenever someone asks you to wear a mask in Rochester, I implore you to do that, too.
The last thing I want is for my fellow students to contribute to a health crisis in my vulnerable and beloved hometown, filled with all the people and places that mean the world to me. Please have respect for my home.