In Defense of President Link

“Allegheny students and employees are committed to creating an inclusive, respectful and safe residential learning community that will actively confront and challenge racism, sexism, heterosexism, religious bigotry, and other forms of harassment and discrimination.”

That is the Allegheny College Statement of Community, something every Gator pledges to follow when they arrive on campus. And it’s something that fell apart when President Hilary Link posted a photo of herself on Instagram at her son’s soccer game two weeks ago.

To recap: on the afternoon of Sept. 10, President Link sent an email to all students stating, we (the college) are adding the precaution of extending the on-campus quarantine period until further notice. This means students may not leave campus for any reason — including, for example, trips to area businesses, jobs, or any other off-campus locations.” The email also stated, “There is simply no room for non-compliance, and our response throughout the semester has been and will continue to be quick and firm, with no room for leniency.”

Two days later, President Link posted an image to her Instagram page showing her at a soccer game with a mask on, with the caption reading “Representing the (Gators) even while supporting the Bulldogs!”

Almost immediately, Link was criticized for leaving Allegheny’s campus for something as trivial as a soccer game, while students were restricted from leaving for any reason, including for “essential items” like toilet paper, medication and alternative sources of food. Before its deletion, the Instagram post amassed hundreds of comments from students outraged at Link’s apparent flaunting of the school’s policy regarding on-campus quarantine. Memes flew left and right. Parents and students reached out to The Meadville Tribune with their complaints, resulting in a story carried nationally on Fox News.

The most common criticism was that Link was being hypocritical — that she was setting a different standard for herself than for the students. Despite instructing students to stay on campus, she left campus to attend a child’s soccer game. But first and foremost, Hilary Link is not a member of the campus community in the same way that students are. She works here, yes. She can be seen around campus, yes. But she does not live in one of the college’s residence halls. She does not share a bathroom with other students. She does not attend in-person classes on a regular basis, or, at all. She has no obligation to stay on campus, and, indeed, it would be unreasonable to ask someone who lives off-campus to do so.

However, it’s true that Link has responsibilities to this community. She has to stay six feet away from others. She has to wear a mask. Allegheny has different regulations for on-campus students, commuting students and employees. The rules for employees and commuting students say nothing about staying on campus. And in her post, Link appears to be following those guidelines.

Another common criticism was that students were barred from leaving campus for “essential items,” like toiletries, food and medication while Link was able to go to a non-essential event. If she can go to a game, why can’t we pop over to the store once or twice?

My question is: of the 1,500-odd students on campus, how many of them are just going to go to Walmart? How many of them will follow the guidelines? And how many of them will go to off-campus parties? How many of them will contract COVID-19 from NOT following the guidelines? The answer lies in Link’s email from September 10th.

“Because we uncovered, during last week’s tests, a cluster of positives among a connected group of students, and because we have understood that this arose due to travel off campus…we are adding the precaution of extending the on-campus quarantine period until further notice,” the ACHA wrote.

While some students argued that the guidelines were unfair, others were just outright ignoring them. And while it’s tempting to argue that the majority of students are going to follow the rules, it is important to remember that we are in a pandemic right now. All it takes is one student to contract and spread the virus, not a majority of students. When Link goes out into the community as she did, she is responsible for making sure that she does not spread the virus. Likewise, when we as the Allegheny student body go out into the community, we are responsible for making sure that we do not spread the virus. If we expect to be let out in the community, we must account for the students at this college that flaunt the rules. If we as a student body want to be let off campus, we should be responsible enough to do so.

Of course, these points are, for the moment, irrelevant. On Tuesday, Sept. 15, the Allegheny College Health Agency announced that the on-campus quarantine was lifted except for active positive cases that needed to be isolated. The quarantine order had been extended only one day.

The question that then comes to my mind is: where is the problem here? Why do people need to go buy essential items if the quarantine was extended only one day? There was no ambiguity on this front: Allegheny repeatedly stated that students would not be allowed off campus until at least the 14th, if not later. Did students not read the schedule?

And if students did read the schedule, why was this a problem in the first place? Why didn’t students plan ahead? Why didn’t they reach out to Allegheny to make accommodations? Why is our immediate reaction to post angry comments on an administrator’s Instagram page?

And where is our student government in all this? Article 1, Section 2 of the Allegheny Student Government Constitution states, “ASG shall endeavor to reflect, represent, and crystallize student opinion … and to collaborate effectively with the faculty and administration in areas of common concern to the Allegheny community.” Why didn’t our student body president and vice president take this issue up with the administration? Why didn’t they take the lead in having a serious and informed discussion about the needs of students and the health of the Allegheny community? Why are all of these complaints coming to a head in the comments section of Link’s Instagram?

By attacking Link on social media, we are attacking the Statement of Community that we claim to uphold. We are not committed to “…creating an inclusive, respectful and safe residential learning community…” We are not choosing to “…actively confront and challenge racism, sexism, heterosexism, religious bigotry, and other forms of harassment and discrimination.” We are actively creating a community where harassment is used to express the opinion of the student body, rather than a community where these discussions are held with mutual respect and dignity.

Yes, there are times when we need to speak up and make our voices heard. Yes, we need to fight injustice and tyranny wherever it may be. But this is not a case of an out-of-hand dictator, or even of an administrator flaunting the rules set for herself. This is a case of overreaction, of immaturity, of a failure on the part of the Allegheny student body. Rather than examine the evidence and respond appropriately, we lashed out in rage. There are established channels through which our voices can be heard, channels that don’t create rifts within the college community. Channels through which we as students can act with poise and maturity, not with anger and reckless abandon.

Should Link have made that post? Should she have gone to the game? Should she have apologized to the student body? Those questions are all irrelevant. We as Alleghenians and as young adults should comport ourselves with dignity, respect and intelligence. If we see a problem in our campus community, we should speak out against it. But we should do so in a way that creates solutions to the issue, not more problems.