COVID-Coalition leads virtual “die-in” protest for stricter COVID-19 guidelines

Kent State Safety COVID Coalition moved its protest virtually Jan. 18 after Winter Storm Izzy hit. The student-led coalition calls on the university for better COVID protocol with Students Safe Six.

Courtesy of Kent State Safety COVID Coalition

Kent State Safety COVID Coalition moved its protest virtually Jan. 18 after Winter Storm Izzy hit. The student-led coalition calls on the university for better COVID protocol with “Students Safe Six.”

Alton Northup, Reporter

More than a dozen Kent State University students and faculty members attended a virtual protest Tuesday evening pushing for stricter COVID-19 guidelines known as the “Students Safe Six,” which was introduced by the student-led group KSU Covid Safety Coalition along with an online petition that has received over 1,000 signatures so far. The protest was originally planned as a die-in, where attendees simulate being dead, though the impact of Winter Storm Izzy forced the demonstration to go virtual.

Much of the protest focused on what many students perceive to be a relaxed effort from the university to contain the spread of COVID on campus despite all-time high infections in Portage County.

 “I got inspired to start this protest because I want to be able to access the in-person learning that is happening on campus,” Ezra Silkes, co-founder of the coalition, said. “I think that is really important. And at this point in time, with the unchecked spread and the complete lack of response to Omicron by the university, that is simply not possible.”

Silkes also expressed concern for the safety of immunocompromised and vulnerable students on campus as the university does away with social distancing in classrooms and at campus events.

“At the end of the day I want to be able to go in-person, I love doing in-person theater,” Silkes, a senior theater design major, said. “But the fact of the matter is, Kent as an overarching institution has not been giving updated health information, has not been adapting to the COVID situation throughout the community … has not implemented standards that make it safe for me as a disabled, high-risk student to go into the community and do in-person things.”

The university does contact students who may have been exposed to COVID and continues to notify students of changes in health protocol through the office of the provost. On Wednesday, two pairs of KN95 masks along with an information card were distributed to every student living in an on-campus residence hall.

During a virtual “town hall” meeting on Jan.13 with university representatives, KentWired general assignment editor Kaitlyn Finchler reported that non-compliant students would be allowed to attend in-person classes.

Kent is requiring all students who registered for in-person courses to continue attending and will not require faculty to offer online instruction. However, students can reach out to Student Accessibility Services if they need accommodation to this rule based on medical need, according to an email sent by Melody Tankersley, senior vice president and provost, to students on Jan. 18.

Eric Mansfield is assistant vice president of university communications and marketing at Kent State University.

Some students see this new guideline as exclusionary.

“Students deserve easy access to alternatives for in-person classes without having to jump through hoops,” Natalia Cruz, a third-year theater studies and political science major, said. “Even though people with documented disabilities are potentially able to access virtual learning, it is unfair for students who may not have the ability to get necessary documents, students who live with high-risk people or anyone who just does not want to be in a place where they could be exposed to COVID.”

Despite being online, the protest was not without objections, with at least one counter-demonstrator using the chat to express their disagreement.

The university continues to stand by its current COVID protocols.

“We recognize our community members hold different opinions about COVID-19, and they are free to express their views in a respectful and peaceful manner following university procedures,” Eric Mansfield, assistant vice president of content strategy and communications, said in an email to KentWired in response to the protest. “The university bases decisions about COVID safety measures on the guidance of our health experts, local health authorities and the CDC, and always with the safety of our community as the top priority.”

An email campaign has been started by the coalition, and future demonstrations are in planning.

Alton Northup is a senior reporter. Contact him at [email protected].