COVID-19 protest

Opinion columnist Zach Freeman discusses the conflict surrounding Texas A&M's shaky COVID-19 protocols that resulted in a protest on Monday, Nov. 1. 

Excellence, Selfless Service and Respect are some of the Aggie Core Values. Texas A&M’s lack of a response to the death of biomedical sciences sophomore Kirstyn Ahuero highlights the university’s failure to live up to its own standards. Naturally, disrespect begets disrespect, culminating in a shouting match between two groups of students in the heart of campus. 

On Nov. 1, a second protest criticizing A&M’s lack of action in dealing with COVID-19 took place at Rudder Plaza.

At the gathering, speakers shared the stories of immunocompromised and chronically ill Aggies who fear the cramped conditions of buses and classrooms where many students remain unmasked and likely, unvaccinated.

“[A&M administrators] are not doing their responsibilities,” wildlife and fisheries sciences junior Neo Koite, head-organizer for the event, said.

One major focus for the protesters was the fact that A&M was falling behind many other major universities in terms of case positivity rate. For the week of Oct. 30, A&M had a positivity rate of 1.2 percent. In contrast, the University of Texas — which we fondly refer to as t.u. — had a 0.1 percent positivity rate, and conducted nearly 4,000 more COVID-19 tests in that period. A&M also recorded nearly 2 ½ times the number of positive COVID-19 cases of Texas State, despite only having a student population that is about 1 ½ times larger. 

One possible reason for these discrepancies is t.u.’s rigorous contact tracing. At A&M, you could sit next to someone who had COVID-19 and only learn about it after they came back from quarantine.T.u. offers more flexibility when it comes to online classes as well. A&M currently discourages in-person classes from meeting online or allowing an online option for students sick with COVID-19. Having Zoom available to students who cannot attend in person would be a major boon and would resolve the issue of students falling behind while in quarantine or isolation.

To be clear, we should not emulate t.u. We should be better than that school in Austin. As proud Aggies, we cannot fall behind our rival. 

The protesters, amid chanting, were suddenly approached by a small group of counter-protesters who had been standing on the opposite side of Rudder Plaza. The opposition began chanting its own slogans. 

Opposing chants echoed back and forth in the space between Rudder Tower and the Memorial Student Center, fomenting a muddied discord.  

"Masks are cringe! The vaccine is poison!” 

“Protect your students, not your pockets!”

"Christ is king!" 

Myocarditis!”

"Stop the spread, save our lives!"

“Stop injecting babies!”

“Not another Aggie!”

The counter-protesters, members of unofficial students groups Novos Order Logos and Texas Action, acknowledged their actions were not optically beneficial to their cause but that they were there to show people there were other options. Considering the state’s policies on masking and vaccinations mirror the university’s stance, those protesting the lack of action by A&M are the other option. If the counter-protesters’ goal was to showcase themselves to A&M students and promote their methods, being optic poison was not the right way.

Koite called the disruption “disrespectful,” saying, “Everyone has a right to their opinion, but we reserved this space.” 

Masking and vaccinations, both routine medical practices, have become a political cudgel for conservative opportunists. They seek to advance their careers and interests by creating massive rifts within their constituency. As a result, political division has become a major issue for Texans and Aggies alike. Students need to not fall prey to bunk political branding and recognize instead that our shared goals and Aggie values can best be exemplified by respecting each other's events and engaging with each other in good faith. 

The reason students are holding protests and attracting counter-protesters in the first place is solely because A&M has failed to offer solutions to the spread of COVID-19 like other universities have.   

By enabling online classes for sick and at-risk students, better promoting COVID-19 testing and expanding contact tracing, we can implement common-sense solutions none of the student body is opposed to. If we can get past manufactured issues, we can create a stronger, safer, more-unified Aggieland built on mutual respect and out of our shared interests as students.

Zachary Freeman is an anthropology senior and opinion columnist for The Battalion.

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