For College Students, Individual Responsibility is Key

Lessons of navigating COVID-19 on a college campus.

Aaron Schnoor


Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

It’s a difficult time to be a college student learning on campus. There is a looming sense that the return to college is temporary, and each additional week that students stay on campus is an apparent victory. My university is one of the few institutions in our area to continue in-person classes. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University, two schools that are relatively close in proximity to our small town of Buies Creek, moved to online classes almost immediately after beginning the semester.

In spite of the overarching thought of online classes, however, students are eager to be back on campus. My fellow students are, for the most part, obeying university guidelines. There is a shared sense of responsibility to wear masks, follow social distancing policies, and stay on campus for as long as possible.

It may sound hyperbolic, but undergoing such a unifying experience is unique to my generation. For most of our lives, my peers and I have been taught that education is an individualistic endeavor. Work hard so that you can get into college. Do well so that you can receive a scholarship. Participate in classes, gain leadership experience, and establish connections so that you can graduate and build a successful career in corporate America. Our entire perception of college is that it is a journey for the individual.

But now, the mantra is different: be smart and stay safe so that we can stay at college. Practice social distancing so that we can be safe. Wear a mask so that we don’t have to go online.

University administrators have changed the dialogue that students have grown accustomed to, and the expectation is that students will immediately accept the new mindset. For the first time in their lives, students are being asked to embrace individual responsibility for a greater purpose than themselves.

This concept — accepting responsibility to achieve something for a group — was once a prominent component of our nation’s social fabric. There are many examples of young Americans who have, through the course of our nation’s history, accepted such a mantle of responsibility.