In Academic Plaza on Tuesday, Sept. 14, students gathered to protest their disapproval with how Texas A&M’s administration has handled COVID-19 on-campus precautions and the recent death of biomedical sciences sophomore Kirstyn Katherine Ahuero.
“We are not trying to use her as some political agenda, we are trying to avoid another death of an Aggie and make sure that every Aggie here on campus and every former student knows about this incident,” protest leader and wildlife and fisheries junior Amanda Harvey said. “A&M should be held responsible for what they have done, and we should be allowed to hear her name and know her story.”
Auhero was raised in Glen Rose and served as valedictorian of her high school. Her funeral was held on Tuesday, Sept. 14 at Kerrville Funeral Home.
“Kirstyn was such a fun person,” a friend wrote in an anonymous letter to The Battalion. “She always wanted to help people and go out of her way to help. I can’t express how sad I am to have lost someone like her.”
On Tuesday evening, students demanded A&M take action against the spread of COVID-19. In their official statement, the students addressed A&M’s administration and asked for improved contact tracing, online learning options, better treatment of on-campus students, increased testing, reevaluated quarantine procedures and stronger and consistent university messaging.
“A&M’s lack of COVID[-19] protocols have really endangered the lives of the student body,” anthropology junior Ellis Howard said. “The ways they’ve been handling housing here and online stuff, you can do more. Sure, you can’t mandate masks, but you can do more, and they’re not doing more.”
Despite a police presence in Academic Plaza on Tuesday evening, students organized a peaceful protest to bring awareness of the COVID-19 situation on campus.
“There doesn’t seem to be a lot of support
“There doesn’t seem to be a lot of support for students or faculty surrounding the virus, and [we want to] just make sure they’re not forgotten or left behind,” wildlife and fisheries sciences junior Neo Koite said. “[We] encourage other universities to possibly do protests on their own, that way we bring awareness at the state level.”
In July, Gov. Greg Abbott announced he would not allow any state entities to enforce mask or vaccine mandates in Texas, which prevents public school districts and public universities such as A&M from requiring masks or vaccinations.
“I understand they’re restricted with Gov. Abbott’s laws being put into place, but I still think there are things that can be done to better our learning environment,” Harvey said. “[Things such as] an online option for those students [who] are immunocompromised. You can allow students to go remotely. Masks should be encouraged a bit more, in my opinion. I feel like we’re lacking on that. That remote environment is one of the main things that I’m personally here fighting for.”
Set up by students, the Linktree @TAMUCOVID provides resources and a place for students and staff to submit their personal experiences with COVID-19 on campus.
“We’re going to take all the submissions and then send it in a letter to the administrator’s office,” Koite said. “We’re also working with student government currently about that as well.”
The Linktree also links to a change.org petition, which as of Sept. 15 has over 9,000 signatures, according to the website. The petition rapidly grew in signatures after a TikTok by user @ohomeycomb went viral, currently sitting at over 51,000 likes and 160,000 views, and the user linked the petition in their profile bio.
Sociology senior Jennifer Belisar said she felt alone and was afraid of being mocked or diminished for speaking up.
“I’m immunocompromised,” Belisar said. “I’m asthmatic. I do my part. I wear my mask. I’m vaccinated, but there are other students who can be particularly selfish. It’s very anxiety-inducing to be going through places where students just don’t care.”
According to the university’s COVID-19 reporting data, over 1,500 individuals have tested positive on campus as of Sept. 12.
“I see every day when I go to my classes that while A&M teaches facts about science and medicine, they choose to ignore it with their own students,” biomedical sciences junior Grace Hess said. “I have to sit there, while I watch all of my fellow classmates who are pre-doctors, who are pre-[physician assistants] not wear their masks and not get their vaccine when they know it saves lives. They are doing it because of their personal liberty as they steal it from others simply because they have the privilege of not being immunocompromised. A&M knows this. A&M knows the facts, they know the science and choose to ignore it. I beg A&M to please listen to the scientists that they pay to teach here.”
A student who asked to remain anonymous said they are satisfied with the turnout for the protest. They said they are more confident in the student body to change the minds of others than A&M officials.
“I know that at its heart, A&M is going to want to push back on the response of its own students, because they have done that time and time again in the past,” the student said. “I know that we have to keep pushing if we want to see more results, and we have to garner more support and attention and call Texas A&M out on their negligence.”
Protest organizers said they want the student body to email and send letters and petitions to the Texas Legislature, to Abbott’s office and to Abbott himself. The organizers said they want students to call out A&M System Chancellor John Sharp, university President Kathy Banks and interim Provost Tim Scott to achieve change on campus.
“There is a lot of responsibility on the administration, but we as students also have to take some responsibility,” another anonymous student said. “We have to have empathy for each other and look out for each other. We are a part of the Aggie Network, and one of our peers died and that’s not okay. It could have been prevented.”
Editor’s Note: Nathan Varnell contributed to this report.