A call to revive, revamp and maintain Rice culture(s)
When we ran for our Student Association executive team positions and defined our platforms, we did not anticipate the arrival of COVID-19. Due to these unusual circumstances, we as members of the executive team have been rapidly thrust into our roles. We have relayed student concerns to administrators and have made an effort to amplify student voices as much as possible. We have been strategizing how we can best communicate with all of the Rice community during the coming weeks as we resume our virtual classwork. But throughout it all, one question has remained on our minds: How can we establish and maintain an intimate, engaging Rice culture and connection while members of the Rice community are so physically distant from each other?
There has been some discussion of the distance that residential colleges may create between Rice students, but now more than ever exemplifies how unified we need to be as a whole university. Due to various extenuating circumstances generated by COVID-19 and the switch to online instruction, members of our Rice community inhabit widespread areas of the world. It is critical that we maintain our connections to Rice — not just our online connections, but the intimate bonds we share as a unique community. We must support each other as we each face challenges brought on by COVID-19. We must continually check on our roommates, classmates, faculty and staff, student leaders, fellow members of our residential colleges and friends — we must truly utilize our Culture of Care to best support each other during this sensitive time.
One way we could support one another during this time is by ensuring that virtual programming resources are equitably distributed across campus. The various student groups, clubs and organizations across campus need to be supplied with the resources and support they need to transition to and maintain virtual meetings and events, as these groups are crucial to keeping Rice culture alive. For example, not everyone has professional Zoom accounts that allow meetings for longer than 40 minutes. Additionally, the leadership teams of these groups could be provided with some kind of document that can give them ideas of how to stay engaged and foster productive, fun meetings with their members. It is a great start that club leaders now have access to Google Hangouts for large meetings, and a club resource guide from the student center has gone live. We must continue to find ways to support (and actively support) these groups so that they are better equipped to continue to uplift our campus energy and ensure students of different backgrounds and passions always have a safe, intimate space to practice their crafts, celebrate their heritages, and maintain fellowship with students who share similar interests or backgrounds as them.
Another way we could support each other is by being empathic to the wide variety of situations that students may encounter during displacement and ensuring that even as we progress toward the fall semester, people still may be grappling with the ramifications of this public health crisis. There are students whose families’, friends’ and individual wellbeing may be put in danger as they are potentially exposed to the virus or returned to a space that reminds them of negative experiences they had before or during college. We all must also remember that there are students who cannot distance themselves from people who are more susceptible to COVID-19, either because they are themselves immunocompromised, live with family who are more vulnerable or live in a densely-populated residential area. None of us can assume that everyone is able to social distance to the degree that they need. The effects of this crisis are long-lasting, and the more we can do to be understanding and compassionate toward each other, the stronger we will become as a community. This could mean considering the need for academic and living accommodations even into the fall semester, something we believe Rice must consider.
Ultimately, it is up to the student body to fight for our continued Rice culture and to uphold our sense of community. We want Rice students to continue in their efforts, such as an amended graduation ceremony and advocating policies and policy changes, to stay connected and to work to make the Rice experience as positive and inclusive as possible during this time. With that, we strive to help recapture and maintain different elements of the Rice experience that we all uniquely hold dear. We encourage you to continue to feel empowered to voice your concerns, worries, ideas and questions about the future; each Monday evening, we will host office hours from 6-10 p.m. Central Standard Time for anyone who has questions about ongoing discussions, has something to bring to our attention, or just wants to get to know us better. These will be advertised via Facebook and campuswide emails and will take place via Zoom. COVID-19 affects each of us uniquely, but as a community, we can overcome this together. We want to take this time to thank our students, faculty and staff who have gathered together over the past few tumultuous weeks to support this campus and all of its members. You inspire us and remind us of what drew us to Rice and the SA in the first place. We as a Rice community can remain engaged and supportive of one another and our Rice community as a whole, no matter how physically distant we are from one another.
Anna Margaret Clyburn is a Martel College junior and the current SA president. Kendall Vining is a Martel College sophomore and the current SA internal vice president. Savannah Parrot is a Sid Richardson College freshman and the current SA secretary.
More from The Rice Thresher
The social media app Fizz made its way to our campus earlier this semester, offering an anonymous discussion platform for exchanging messages and memes amongst Rice students. In recent weeks, antisemitic and racist posts were made by members of our community on this app. It is entirely hateful and dangerously intolerant.
Anyone who walked through the academic quad on Monday encountered the statue of William Marsh Rice visibly covered by sheets of A4 paper that read “习近平下台,” which roughly translates to “Resign Xi Jinping.” Other signs read “No emperor in a republic” and “Not my president.” These signs are part of larger protests happening in mainland China — that are being echoed by Chinese people across the world — in response to nearly three years of aggressive COVID lockdowns across the country.
The words “free speech” will likely elicit groans from Thresher readers. Over the last three years, there have been three articles in the Opinion section bemoaning the need for a “classically liberal” political discourse at Rice. Unfortunately, between their self-righteousness and needless wordiness, they read more like whiny lectures than conversation starters. However, despite their condescension, their existence does suggest something unsettling about not just our campus politics, but politics at large. As the electorates of democracies around the world have become more sharply divided, the way we speak to each other, not just across the aisle but to our similarly minded partisans, has become more accusatory, exclusionary and violent. Put simply: we do not want to talk to each other, and understandably so. It is exhausting, and, more than that, we just don’t seem to know how to.