Since being sent home in March, I, like many of my peers, have had a lot of time to reflect on what it means to be a student in a time like this. Although it might seem contradictory to the stay-at-home orders at first, for those of us with the privilege and comfort of safe environments, now is our time to get involved. We came to Princeton to become leaders in our fields and serve the world — a pandemic isn’t the time to forget that mission, but rather the time to get to work. I’d like to think that this is the situation Sonia Sotomayor ’76 had in mind when she proposed the amendment of our school’s motto to “In the Nation’s Service and the Service of Humanity.”
This fall, I spent Thursdays volunteering at a hospice. I would often come back to campus and enter my eating club to be met with the noise and festivities typical of juniors and seniors finished with classes for the week. It made me acutely aware of the dichotomy that exists between the bacchanalia that is so deeply tied to “the college experience” and the types of community engagement that brought us to Princeton in the first place. With the social aspect of college gone for now, I’d argue that there is no better time to reengage with our communities and support the places that supported us on our journey to Princeton.
Young adulthood is already a highly turbulent period of life, but it seems like recent events have made the instability much more palpable. We have largely taken this as a cue to take matters into our own hands. We are fighting for human rights, standing up for displaced populations, and revolutionizing industries; one of the leading figures in fighting climate change is a 17-year old Swedish girl. Why should our role in this global pandemic be any different? Through service and activism, we are able to reclaim control of our situation.
I’ve recently taken on the role of National Strategy Coordinator for a group called the National Student Response Network (NSRN). It was started by Harvard Medical School students as a way for health students across the country to become involved in the response to COVID-19. States like Maryland and California have already recognized how valuable this potential network is and have called on students to join their health corps to help the fight against COVID-19. We pair students with opportunities to contribute to their own communities — while these students might be eager to help, they are uncertain of the best way to get involved. Thus far, 5,000 students have joined us and are being matched with hundreds of opportunities.
The NSRN was created as a response to the countless stories in the news about hospitals that are overworked and understaffed. The NSRN allows hospitals to find qualified student volunteers to assist the medical staff, nurses, and physicians and meet the specific needs they request. If we can ease the burden on hospital workers, we can allow them to continue saving lives every day.
I have personally signed up to assist in non-contact roles at a testing center near my home. Though I don’t have any medical training beyond first aid, I still know that there are ways for me to actively help my community. Actions do not need to be on a national scale to make a significant difference. Often, the best way to help is as simple as offering to buy groceries for your elderly neighbor. Every one of us knows or is close to a person in a vulnerable position to this virus. “Powerless” is a word I’ve been hearing a lot when people describe our relationship to this pandemic. We can slowly get portions of our power back if we all collectively take little actions to help.
There are so many ways that we can all contribute to beating COVID-19. It starts with adhering to national and state guidelines, but there is a lot more that we can do. If you’ve recovered from the virus, consider donating plasma. Volunteer for your local soup kitchen or provide tech support for nonprofits. Or take it a step further and contact your local health departments. Write to your local and state politicians. Use your language skills to help educate different communities. Quarantine is indubitably hard, but it will quite literally take the efforts of millions to beat this virus, so I hope you’ll join me in taking action.
Carla Dias is a junior concentrator in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.