Purple Fire Weekend, events designed to welcome students back to campus as a sort of homecoming weekend, was unusually important this year. What’s normally just a tradition became a proving ground for our community; it showcased students’ and faculty members’ conceptions of how casual university events should be held in the shadow of COVID. As it was the first set of campus events held in this pandemic, they were a test run for both contagion prevention methods and student enthusiasm.
Nothing puts a dampener on the desire to participate and socialize like a months-long global tragedy. To make matters worse, Purple Fire Weekend, now being held outside for safety, was drowned out by the rain. Walking to the tent in the Oak Grove, keeping my camera as far under my umbrella as I could, I fully expected to arrive at an empty venue. The event was announced rather suddenly – not many of my friends knew it was even happening. Those who did know felt nervous about going. Did they want to try to trek through the rain? Was attending worth risking infection? Is it even sensible for the school to be holding events at all? With all this in mind, I was surprised when I arrived to see a crowd on the first day, let alone the second day when it was pouring rain. Yet still, a fair crowd had arrived. We were trapped under a tent that threatened to buckle beneath the torrent, but we were all determined to make the most of it. Eventually, the rain wore itself out. Fortunately, nobody’s mood seemed soured except my own, strained while trying to protect my camera.
I’m invested in this university, so it makes me happy to see events populated, but I soon began questioning whether the crowd was staying safe. Student and faculty volunteers certainly were, considering the full array of things prepared to alleviate the possibility of viral spread. Hand sanitizers and wipes were openly available. The event was held outside to give everyone more breathing room. Student volunteers and organizers used gloves during set up. Cones were meticulously measured and placed 6 feet apart to encourage social distancing by our very own SGA President Connor Coddington. So, of course, several organizers felt uncomfortable watching some students outright ignore these measures. Masks were on, but tight crowds formed. Jimmy Surin, our campus every-man, asked Connor to say a few words as SGA President, implying a brief speech. Connor had other things on his mind, so he missed that cue – he simply asked, while staring at a clump of students, to please, please socially distance, as it affects whether future events will be held.
He didn’t elaborate on that, but it occurred to me then that the behavior of our students affects a lot more than just CAB’s future events. The outcome of Purple Fire Weekend, in seeing whether students will maintain a culture of safety or act without caution, could predict a butterfly effect that could stop even our classes. What’s at stake is whether the format of our education remains in-person; if things don’t go well, if students don’t stay safe, then Florida Poly will be filled with infections, halting in-person classes entirely. Our existence here is volatile, at risk of disappearing with just a couple missteps. Thankfully, the students who didn’t (or don’t) socially distance seem to be a minority. We’re relying on each other. Kathryn Miller, the Vice Provost of Student Affairs, said it best in one of the COVID meetings before the semester began. “We are… trusting our students and the community to keep itself safe.”
“Our existence here is volatile, at risk of disappearing with just a couple missteps.”
Purple Fire Weekend sought to and successfully did solidify that trust, at least for those present. I trust our faculty to stay proactive about safety, and the faculty trust (most) of the student community to stay socially distant and self-moderate. Looking forward, CAB doesn’t have to cancel its plans for events, and the school can hopefully continue along its path. I’m thankful for that. These events are a risky thing, without a doubt, but there’s also a risk in not having them. CAB’s work unites students and faculty, keeps morale high, and gives us a sense of solidarity and comradery. That’s all we have to get us through this pandemic, and hopefully, it’s all we’ll need.