Make Admin communication more centralized
Almost one year ago, we wrote an editorial titled “Centralize COVID-19 Communication.” That editorial, published on March 10, 2020, came a day after Rice made the decision to suspend classes following the announcement that a Rice employee had tested positive for COVID-19. We wrote, “When we instead get information fragmented between Rice Alert, our magisters, other students’ magisters, our professors, our college presidents or group chat screenshots, it becomes almost impossible to distinguish rumors from facts.”
Last week, Rice faced another crisis that tested its communication channels: A deadly winter storm wreaked havoc on the state of Texas, leaving more than one million people in the Houston area without power and water, including hundreds of Rice community members. Amidst this chaos, 800 doses of the scarce COVID-19 vaccine were made available at the East Gym, sending students sprinting across campus.
The events of the past week revealed how a lack of centralized communication remains an issue for Rice. The vaccine distribution announcement was sent as a standardized message to all college magisters at 11:07 a.m. on Feb. 15, and magisters were asked to forward the announcement to the students at their colleges; this approach caused significant disparities in when students received information about the vaccine. Hanszen College, for instance, only received an email from one of their resident associates at 12:19 p.m., just 10 minutes before students were advised to stop joining the line. While we recognize that the COVID-19 vaccinations were organized at the last minute, the administration should have directly emailed or texted all members of the Rice community in order to ensure equitable access.
Uneven communication across colleges continued as the storm knocked out power and water for many off campus students. On Monday night, only a handful of colleges had received communication from their core teams about options for off-campus students to move into spare rooms on campus. Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman said that all magisters know that they should accommodate off campus students if possible, yet this message was not clearly communicated to all students. This communication was instead left to individual college presidents and magisters, leaving many students confused and stranded in unsafe situations. Students were also uncertain about the COVID-19 testing requirements to move on campus, which is an issue that could have been clarified by administration.
Although the administration’s communication has improved since our editorial one year ago, with weekly crisis management emails updating us on the COVID-19 situation at Rice, situations such as what happened last week must be handled better. This past week’s events demonstrate the need for a consistent, centralized source of communication, where students can all simultaneously receive comprehensive, clear information.
Editor’s Note: Thresher editorials are collectively written by the members of the Thresher’s editorial board. Current members include Rishab Ramapriyan, Ivanka Perez, Amy Qin, Nayeli Shad, Ella Feldman, Katelyn Landry, Rynd Morgan, Savannah Kuchar, Ben Baker-Katz, Simona Matovic and Dalia Gulca.
More from The Rice Thresher
As the parade to Beer Bike 1992 devolved into a water balloon melee, I picked up a pink water balloon and flung it in the general direction of a group of Sidizens who had been pelting me and my fellow Wiessmen with them. As I did so, I felt my Rice ring slip from my finger. A moment later, in the distance, I heard the metallic ping as my ring fell to the pavement. “My ring! My ring came off!” I don’t know how I was heard over the din of laughter and yelling, but in a few moments, Rice students from three or four colleges paused their good-natured rivalry and helped me recover it, only a little worse for wear. I wore that slightly dented ring up until replacing it for my 25th reunion a few years ago.
On Rice’s campus, a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel finally seems to be emerging. The administration is optimistic about “a mostly normal fall semester,” according to communications sent out by Kevin Kirby. According to President Leebron’s announcement on fall planning, most classes are expected to be in person, most university housing is expected to be fully occupied and COVID-19 policies regarding gathering restrictions are expected to be relaxed. The road forward for many Rice students is clear: Sign up for a vaccine appointment as soon as possible and wait for more than 80% of the Rice community to be fully vaccinated so that COVID-19 policies can be relaxed.
Just a couple of months ago, Gov. Greg Abbott declared “election integrity” to be an emergency item for the 2021 Texas legislative session. This was promptly followed by the National Republican Party launching a committee to pursue state election laws, praising Abbott’s initiative. With Senate Bill 7 (SB 7) and its House equivalent (HB 6), in addition to other bills directed at restricting voting access like House Bill 2293, marginalized groups will be further restricted from their right to vote. Shift workers who rely on later voting place hours will be without options. Individuals with disabilities who require vote-by-mail will be burdened with providing proof of their condition. Drive-thru voting will be banned. The role of poll watchers, already infamous for attracting self-appointed vigilantes of voter intimidation, will be able to record voters who receive help filling out their ballots.