The University Park Campus may resemble a ghost town these days — lecture halls are empty, Trousdale Parkway is quiet and the anticipation that typically marks the onset of the college football season is absent — but the streets surrounding campus are anything but.
Crowds at USC Village appear to increase by the day, moving trucks have become a regular sight and students’ social media feeds are abuzz with new photos and videos of students returning to campus.
Though these sights might offer some fleeting sense of normalcy to the USC community, they have also made one reality painfully clear: Despite six months of sporadic quarantine measures, dizzying lockdowns, a slew of mask mandates and almost 200,000 deaths, one precaution has not yet sunk in for many Trojans: wearing a goddamn mask.
This is not to say that students are running wild around campus, maskless, coughing and spitting on any pedestrian that might unfortunately find themselves in such a mob’s crosshairs. In fact, despite some students’ neglect, a great many do appear to be taking public health precautions seriously.
Still, this does not lessen the shameful spotlight that must be fixed on those that do not. These students — and there are more than enough of them to warrant an op-ed of this sort — walk the halls of cramped shared living spaces unmasked and stroll the streets surrounding campus unmasked, seemingly without a care in the entire world. They not only demonstrate a blatant disregard for their community but also an almost inexplicable ignorance to the detriment of their own futures and the future of our country.
There are two elements that define one’s failure to wear a mask. One is moral and centered on a concern for one’s neighbors and community, and another is largely pragmatic, primarily borne out of self-interest.
From a moral perspective, those who fail to wear a mask fail on a human level. They recklessly put the lives and livelihoods of those around them at risk. Fundamentally, what they are doing is dangerous. In layman’s terms, they are exhibiting their shortcomings as a considerate human being.
On the other hand, from a purely self-interested perspective, not responsibly wearing a mask is moronic. The longer the virus spreads within our community, the longer lockdown measures will persist, which not only means more businesses closed and lives ruined but also the continued diminishment of job and internship prospects for USC students. Even the most egocentric, self-centered of Trojans should find this troubling.
To make matters worse, there is absolutely no excuse for students’ failures. The verdict on masks’ efficacy is in — they work. Despite what feckless Republican diatribes might suggest, masks have been proven to significantly reduce the likelihood of community transmission. Countless medical studies and journals have proven this to be the case and, in light of this, it is inconceivable how students at USC, a school that prides itself on a low acceptance rate and world-class education, have opted to prioritize their own superficial comfort over the well-being of those around them.
It should also be noted that those around them are not only students but the South Central community at large. It is no secret that those likely to be harmed the most by students’ privileged negligence aren’t the students themselves, but those who have no choice but to be in proximity to them: movers, custodial staff, security guards, couriers and the like. Not to mention the countless families that call the surrounding community home, many of whom face structural barriers to attaining high-quality healthcare and treatment.
USC students are visitors in their communities. South Central’s residents — residents who, demographically speaking, are being disproportionately killed by the virus— should not be forced to suffer the brunt of the pandemic’s structural carnage just because white, rich students at USC are too self-absorbed to consider their well-being.
None of what has been written here should be a revelation to students. None of what has been written here should be considered “woke” or intellectually exceptional. The efficacy of masks has been well-documented for months now. The severity of the pandemic has been apparent for half of a year. A USC degree isn’t required to know this.
Instead, the purpose of this op-ed is to hopefully serve as an effective reminder to students. Thousands of Americans die every day from the coronavirus. Scores of Americans are suffering from acute physical pain and financial ruin, many in Los Angeles. The very least the USC student body can do is shed some ignorance, exercise some empathy and wear a mask.