Six Questions on Pandemic Personal Responsibility With Drexel’s Student Body President

Incoming Undergraduate Student Government Association President Jarod Watson explains how and why students should take it slow during their return to campus and practice safe habits, respect for others and putting the Dragon community first.

After 18 months of Drexel University’s full campus community being apart due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dragons are excited to be back together and bring campus back to life at the start of the 2021–2022 academic year.

But if there’s one mantra that student leaders want to relay at this time to ensure safety and the continuation of this exciting return to some sort of normalcy, it’s to “take it slow.”

Be mindful of how you connect with others. Avoid large gatherings or those where it is hard to practice social distancing. Wear a mask. These are all things that Undergraduate Student Government Association (USGA) President Jarod Watson, a fourth-year entertainment & arts management student, can get behind, as well as respecting one another’s personal choices and the larger community around Drexel by practicing safe behaviors.

How exactly can students “take it slow” and why is it important? Watson answered six questions for DrexelNow that spell it all out:

Q: Tell me your overall thoughts on the idea that students need to take it slow during this return to campus, even though it is a very exciting time. Why is this important? What strategies should they put in place?

A: Ultimately, we're still in a pandemic. As unfortunate as it is, it is just something that we're dealing with. There are these exciting moments of, after a year and a half of remote learning, we can finally come back to college or go to a concert, so on and so forth. There's a little more normalcy now, but at the end of the day, we're still in a pandemic, and we have to be responsible because of that. Normalcy is no longer a given with the times we are in.

We have a full school year ahead of us, and not everything has to happen week one of fall quarter. If we are smart and we do this right, we have nine months to gain an experience that we didn't think we were going to have anymore. So, taking it slow and having little moments of fun along a lot of social responsibility saves us an entire academic year, because if we blow it, we don't get that back. Then, we're going to be kicking ourselves.

Take it slow, and it's going to ensure that you have more experiences down the line than going crazy in fall and not having anything after that.

I think to the point of strategizing, it's hard to figure out what works, what doesn't work, what’s safe, what isn't safe. I think the University and local guidelines overall kind of give you a strategy to begin with.

Wear a mask. It's not fun, but I think there are worse things that could be going on besides having to wear some sort of covering across your face. So, if you feel like you're in a situation where you're like, “There's a lot of people here. I don't know how safe this is” and you have to think about it, put your mask on. It's not the end of the world. You'll survive. It might be uncomfortable, but it's not going to kill you.

Definitely being vaccinated. Obviously, it's a hot topic, but you have a tool at your disposal to keep you and a lot of other people safe. It's free, and it's effective. It's a pretty good strategy to keep this going and to kick a disease in the butt. It's a very simple thing that's very effective. So at the end of the day, unless you can't do it, why not do it?

I think the last part of it is simply caring about other people. I know that seems like a weird thing to do nowadays in the world we live in. But if you can think about it from [the viewpoint of], “It's no longer just me, my actions impact a larger group of people,” I think it gives you a better idea as to how to handle yourself.

… So there's a lot of things that go into it. But at the end of the day, it's personal responsibility and knowing it's no longer just that your actions impact yourself. Your actions are now impacting an entire community. So, if you can think about things like that, I think your strategy becomes more [apparent] as to what you have to do in order to keep yourself and everyone else safe.

Q: Why might this be especially important and also difficult for incoming students or students for whom this is their first time living on or near campus?

 A: It's weird being an upperclassman because, for me, I kind of lost the middle chunk of my college experience. So I still understand, but I also had a traditional freshman year. I still had a part of my sophomore year to understand what college can be. I didn't lose my graduation and I didn't lose fundamental moments like a high school graduation or a freshman year of college. So it's really weird to think about how this has impacted people differently.

[The pandemic has] definitely made socializing different. I think people have now recognized the importance of human connection. For my freshman year, I was just out and about. I met everyone that I can, attended every event that I could to see what could happened. I had to make friends somehow. That's still true. [New students] should still put themselves out there because you don't know if you don't try. But I think it's almost easier to take that slower now because they're all in the same boat. Everyone doesn't know everyone. Everyone wants that human connection. Everyone wants to make a friend at what is a relatively new environment, if not totally new environment. So, when you're all in the same boat, you can all take it slower because, you know you're looking for the same thing.

… You don't know when you're going to make a friend. You don't know when a new opportunity will come about. So while it is really exciting, and it's probably nerve wracking as well — I was terrified to start my freshman year — they're all in the same boat. They're all looking for the same experience. With that, you can kind of take it slower because you're all going to find each other some way because of that. You can take it slower, and still meet friends at Welcome Week. You can take it slower, and still meet your friends in the classroom. Make friends with the kids that you're living with. There's a lot of opportunity to meet new people and not have to put yourself in a position where you risk public safety.

Q: Is there a difference in the way students should think about academic/on-campus activity and off-campus/social activity? Do you have any advice for students not falling to peer pressure or FOMO and engaging in situations they’re not comfortable with?

A: It is tricky — I don't think anyone's going to lie about that. It’s a really tricky thing to manage because you have in the back of your head the need to be safe. But also, for me, such a large part of college was what I was doing outside of the classroom or outside of school that kind of builds a social network.

I think University-sanctioned events still provide you that space to make friends, to be a person and have social interaction in a more controlled, safe environment. So, you kind of get the best of both worlds with it.

You attend what you are interested in, and that's usually where you meet people who become your friends. I met my very first friend I met at Drexel, who is now my roommate as a senior, at the first day of Welcome Week because we both went to the Constitution Center. We had a common interest. We went to the same school-sanctioned event, and now, literally, they're one of my closest friends.

So, even though these events are school-sanctioned, which may sound lame, they give you a space to meet a lot of like-minded people. Those are the people who stick it out with you, more than anything. It's not necessarily the friends who you lived with freshman year or the people you have in your major. They still are friends. I still have those friends. But the closest friends you are going to meet are people who are attending similar events because, again, they have that similar fundamental level of interest, which builds a friendship. So, why not go to a school-sanctioned event? Especially now when you still get a good group of people who could be future friends, but it's also controlled and safer than going to a frat party.

But to that point, off-campus social events are still a thing. It's not a perfect world. We can't snap our fingers and those go away for the time being. So, I think if you're [craving] that, where can you do it safely? Maybe hang out at Drexel Park instead of cramming into a small house off campus. What's the vaccination status of everyone going? Am I safe being in this group if I don't have my mask on? What are other things we can do that keep us outside instead of going to a house? You have the entire city of Philadelphia as your backyard. You don't need to be crammed in a basement to have the time. I've learned there are more fun things to do.

If these events are not school-sanctioned, just know in the back of your mind [to question], is this safe? What impact does this have on myself and other people if me and my friends do this? So it is a balance, and it definitely is a hard one. But Drexel students are smart. You don't come here if you're not smart and a good thinker. You can think about another thing to do that keeps you safe and is still fun.

Q: How can students respect their peers’ varied comfort level with masking and social activities during the ongoing pandemic?

A: To be blunt, I think a big part of college is learning that the world doesn't revolve around you anymore. When you're in high school and you're living with your parents or with a family member and kind of have those larger support systems that are very prevalent around you, it does kind of feel like the world revolves around you. Like my mom would take me to soccer practice. My mom would take me home. I would take the bus to school. Everything revolved around me in order for me to do what I have to do.

When you get to college, I think you figure out pretty quickly that it's not like that anymore. The world doesn't revolve around you, and there's a lot of world out there. You meet a lot of people who have a lot of different lived experiences. That is the world — it is a lot of different people with a lot of different backgrounds kind of creating this campus environment. So with that, you do have to learn how to kind of approach different people in different situations uniquely.

Now, in light of COVID, [the current guidance is you aren’t mandated] to wear your mask outside, but it's strongly recommended if you can't socially distance. If you're just walking around Drexel Park and someone has a mask on, that's not hurting you. It's not offensive. If that's what makes them feel safe and it's not of any physical harm to you, it's not your business.

It takes nothing to be nice and to be respectful to another person when you have to put effort and energy into being rude about something. If someone's wearing a mask and you're not, if that what makes them comfortable, cool. You're doing what makes you comfortable, aren't you? So why can't that right be afforded to another individual?

Think to yourself, why could this person be wearing a mask? What if they're immunocompromised? You don't know what their life entails. You don't know what their day has been. So, you are no one to judge this person based off of the fact that they have a mask on. Just like, if you're outside in a well-spaced environment and someone doesn't have a mask on, it doesn't mean they're not being safe about it. They're in a situation where they feel comfortable to not have it, then that's their personal decision to make.

If you're going to hang out and a friend is like, “I don't feel safe doing this,” that's their personal decision and you really can't tell them any other way. You can't tell someone what should make them feel safe. You can't tell someone what is right for them. That is ultimately a decision for a person to make for themselves, by themselves. And that goes both ways. So, be understanding.

… It's never a personal thing. I think it's really just understanding that everyone has something a little different going on that leads them to make the decisions that they do. And unless it's causing physical harm to another person or if it's blatantly offensive, you're not really in a space to tell someone what works and what doesn't work for them. Like you would want your decisions to be respected, you owe that to another person as well.

Q: How can Drexel students be cognizant and responsible neighbors in the cityscape that surrounds them, whether regarding the pandemic or just in general?

A: Going to school in a city is the best decision I could have made for myself. And I think that's how that decision goes: it's either a city school or it's not a city school. I don't think I've ever met someone who was like, “I could go either way.” So for me, this is the best decision I could have made, but when you live in a city, there's multiple communities. We're only here four to five years, but there are people who live here and you have to learn how to respect that. I'll plug CIVC 101 because it helps you figure that out.

We are right up against the Powelton [Village] neighborhood, which students live in, but there's a lot of people for whom that is their permanent home. They were here before I got here. They'll be here after I leave. And when you live in a city — it's the city of Brotherly Love — you have to kind of respect those boundaries and those different communities. If you don't belong to a community, you can't force yourself into it. You can't believe that you know exactly what they're going through. So, a lot of it is talking and meeting new people. Figuring out the differences that make you unique and how you respect those things. If you're in a quiet neighborhood, maybe throwing a loud house party isn't the right thing to do in that environment.

Even going into the city of Philadelphia if you're not from around here, you do kind of have to be cautious for a little bit and figure out the culture of a city and how you play into that because the culture is not going to change for you. Take the time to understand the communities and the culture around you and figure out how you fit into those instead of expecting them to just kind of move around you, because it doesn't work like that.

Watch your back. … Walk in a well-lit area. A lot of it becomes common sense when you're in the city. Like, if you don't feel safe, well, if you don't feel safe, there's probably something that's causing. I think common sense — which is weird because it really ties into COVID as well as living in the city — is now your best friend. If you're feeling a certain way about something, [recognize] why are you feeling that and correct your course accordingly. Common sense is a life saver when you live in a city.

Q: How is USGA here to help students during this time?

A: The immediate thing is we're really trying to position ourselves in a way that students know we exist and that we are a major resource for them because of the environment.

[For instance], academic success. It was very jolting to go from in-person to remote learning. It's going to be jolting to go remote to back in-person. If you have an issue or something's not working out, reach out to us and let us know because we want to figure out a larger solution to those problems.

… The biggest thing that we want the student body to know is that we are here to support them. And so, we really want that communication with the student body to figure out what works and what doesn't work. So, as we go throughout this year, we can figure it out together and kind of make this the best experience it can be, because it's new for all of us at the end of the day.

Because of this unique situation that the University finds itself in, what we’re doing that we have not done before is we will literally be tabling at different parts of campus throughout the year to have that connection. If you have something to say that you’ve been wanting to get off your chest, come find us. Tell us what you’re thinking. That’s what we want to know. … That’s what we’re here for, to help you figure that out. Just look out for us. If you see us, come say hi. We’re students. I’m a student. I’m real, and so is my entire board of people. We’re real students. We love meeting new people. We want to help you out, and we want to know you as well. So keep an eye out for us.

Looking for fun, safe activities in the city as an alternative to indoor social gatherings? Here’s a list of ideas from Watson and his fellow USGA team members:

“Overall advice: go out and explore!” Watson said. “Philly has so many little things to take in, and the best way to experience them is just walking around and seeing what pops out to you.”