opinion

We are in this together.

Since March, this sentence, or some version of it, has reverberated in the global consciousness through social media posts, commercials and messaging campaigns from cities, companies and universities alike.

As we look ahead to the fall semester, this sentence takes on new life to me. ‘We are in this together’ means partnership. It means we must look out for one another. It means we are not alone.

In June, a University of Florida research team led by Ann Christiano, the director of the Center for Public Interest Communications; Dr. Monica Webb, director of GatorWell Health Promotion Services; Kate Ratliff, executive director of Project Implicit; Colin Smith, director of the Attitudes and Political Cognition Lab; Myiah Hutchens, political communication scholar; and Jay Hmielowski, environmental, science, and political issues scholar, conducted a survey on healthy behaviors. More than 11,000 UF students, faculty and staff participated and provided insight into the preventative behaviors they are adopting to support the community.

We have all seen the news clips of college-aged bar-goers piled into crowded watering holes. And that is a real risk with possibly life-threatening consequences. But it is not the whole picture. From our survey, 87% of students plan to deliberately put physical distance between themselves and others while out in public. And more than 88% of students plan to wear face masks. However, students believe only 23% and 33% of people at UF, respectively, will do the same.

There is a disconnect between what students think their peers are doing and what they are actually doing.

What I have seen our students and community members do is partner to find creative pathways for safer social engagement. This is all new. The ‘what’ of many fall semester activities will be the same, but the ‘how’ will look different.

Education and engagement are vital to our plans and how we move forward together. Most of the time, if a student is not wearing a mask, it is because they forgot it. It takes a little time to form a habit, so I started carrying an extra mask around with me to pass out to those I encounter who need one. These actions are small, but the grace, sincerity and encouragement we need to give one another matters.

For example, as part of UF Health Screen, Test & Protect initiative, if a student tests positive, public health staff will call them to learn more about who they have had close contact with during the timeframe while they may have been infectious. Contact tracing is an essential and time-honored component of supporting the health of our community, and it is not tied to any conduct process. We need students to look out for one another by sharing accurate and complete information.

I talk a lot with my team in Student Affairs about the shadow of a leader. The shadow you cast is your sphere of influence. You may be unaware of that influence, but it exists, and you are setting an example. If we work together, we can extend our shadow, making an even greater impact.

Gators are leaders who never shy away from a challenge. Now is the time for us to commit collectively and individually to supporting one another.

We are in this together. And I have never been more thankful to be part of the Gator Nation.

Be safe, be well, and as always – Go Gators!

Dr. D’Andra Mull is the vice president for Student Affairs at UF.