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Those who partied when they should've been quarantining are a big part of the reason students were sent home.

Dear off-campus partiers and those who refuse to wear masks:

As a freshman, I and many others have complied to social distancing policies. I constantly put on hand sanitizer, wash my hands for 20 seconds and wear a mask. I keep in mind those who are immunocompromised and those who’ve traveled far to live on campus. I follow these rules and policies out of respect for other freshmen who can't have the quintessential college experience. 

Even before arriving at JMU, I saw photos of large parties happening off campus, and once arriving on campus, I’ve witnessed many wearing their masks incorrectly. 

As a Duke, I feel that it’s my responsibility to have empathy for others. However, with some of my peers’ selfish behaviors, COVID-19 cases have gone up to a total of 1,065 active cases, with 451 of them being self-reported, indicating that many of those with the virus reside off campus. 

In comparison to other Virginia universities, JMU is No. 1 in COVID-19 cases as of Sept. 9. Virginia Commonwealth University, which started classes more than a week before us, only has 93 active cases. Yet, after almost a week of classes, JMU has been forced to go online because of  the amount of cases here. It’s clear that the handling of the virus is a failure and disappointing after receiving false hope that JMU had a secure plan.

Anthony Fauci said sending college students home is “the worst thing you can do” and that “[students] could be spreading it to their home state.” It’s nerve-wracking to hear this advice right after JMU announced the transition to online learning.

Despite trusting the university, I also trusted my fellow Dukes. As a university that prides itself on “being the change” and selecting students that “[hone] their ability to think critically,” it’s disappointing to see upperclassmen who had a true freshman experience disregard the feelings of current freshmen. After missing prom and graduation, I’m constantly lowering my expectations of experiencing these once-in-a-lifetime events.

Off-campus partiers aren’t the only problem. For the few days I’ve been on campus, I’ve witnessed people wearing their mask under their nose, below their chin and even some wearing no mask at all. Stanford scientists said, “wearing a mask regularly can prevent spreading at the source even when we don’t know we are sick.” By simply wearing a mask, lives can be saved and the amount of cases could decrease.

Unfortunately, irresponsible mask-wearing isn’t limited to JMU. Across the country, there have been anti-mask sentiment and protests. In Las Vegas on Aug. 29, the “No Mask Nevada rally” had “about 200 protesters,” according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. It’s clear that anti-maskers are willingly putting others at risk despite the scientific evidence that directly correlates with stopping the spread. The problem isn’t limited to JMU –– it’s a national issue.

Once those living on campus are sent home, I expect there’ll still be parties off campus. The university is powerless in this situation, and because they weren’t able to do anything before, they won’t be able to take action now.

To those who will continue to party: I hope that you’re satisfied putting others at risk. You may not care about your health, but the “if I die, I die” mentality exhibits your lack of empathy for others. Some of us are here for an education, not a vacation.

To those who don’t wear masks: Every day you walk around without a mask, you’re putting someone else at risk. With everything going on in our country, the least you can do is save a life.

As someone who takes pride in my university and nationality, I’ve never been more embarrassed to call myself a Duke and an American.

Julia Cheng is a freshman media arts and design major. Contact Julia at chengjm@dukes.jmu.edu.