Art by Elizabeth Brummer
With the suspension of the Pepperdine Shanghai program following the December 2019 outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China, concerns surrounding the novel coronavirus continue in Malibu as well as abroad. Nonetheless, in the midst of this epidemic, the Pepperdine community should be warm and inviting — rather than insensitive — to the students returning from China.
The virus’ initial outbreak in China prompted Pepperdine to fly all 38 students home, with their classes resuming in Malibu on Feb. 17. Students who expected to spend their semester abroad are now relocating back to Malibu after spending two weeks with their families at their permanent residences.
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the virus a global health emergency in January. According to the WHO, a public health emergency of international concern is only declared during “an extraordinary event” that poses a “public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease.” The death toll has only continued to increase, with 1,018 deaths in China as of Feb. 11.
This disruption in the semester is not a foreign concept to all students, as some of the members of the Shanghai program — notably sophomore students — also experienced the Borderline Shooting and Woolsey Fire in November 2018.
With their abroad experience cut short, these students may additionally feel out of place with offensive memes and insensitive questions thrown their way. Having already been through a voluntary quarantine and screened by the university, it is important to be mindful of what these students have been through.
In response to bringing abroad students back to Malibu, Pepperdine should create events that can ease the transition from abroad. These events could align with those already in place for spring admits and students returning from fall semesters spent overseas.
It can be difficult transitioning from abroad back to Pepperdine’s Malibu campus — especially when the move is unexpected. Joking about trauma, through memes or otherwise, can be particularly triggering. Instead of making jokes about the virus or being insensitive to returning students, it is important to be aware that what happened in Wuhan could easily happen in Los Angeles.
Rather than giving in to the urge to jab at whether a student might be contagious, students should instead maintain a welcoming spirit and invite the Shanghai students to share their experiences. Having a conversation about what is going on globally will only help to spread awareness on campus and create a smoother transition for abroad students.
Additionally, through sharing our fears and concerns over illness and catastrophe, the community as a whole can acknowledge the ways in which individuals feel discomfort, can take responsibility and then work to take control.
Pepperdine fosters prolific and energized students who seek to not only better themselves as individuals but also to make the world a better place to live; this begins with our campus. Just as all are welcome at Pepperdine, all should be welcomed to return home. Let us receive them with open arms.
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