EDITORIAL: Do ‘blue lives’ matter more than Blue Demons?

When coronavirus cases began to spike citywide in March, we packed up our backpacks in physical classrooms for the last time, not saying goodbye because we didn’t know we had to. In April, we taught ourselves how to learn and teach over Zoom, sacrificing our social lives for the actual lives of our at-risk community members. By now, we’re used to learning online, socializing at a distance, sanitizing frequently and always wearing masks. 

Those rules — dubbed Take Care, DePaul — have kept our community mostly safe from the virus. But DePaul decided those same rules don’t extend to Chicago Police. 

Two weeks ago, The DePaulia’s staff witnessed a large group of unmasked, uniformed CPD officers throwing a pizza party in a DePaul Center classroom. They weren’t breaking the law, but they were breaking the Covid-mitigating rules the university requires of its students, faculty and staff. 

When The DePaulia asked the university why the officers were there and not subjected to the same rules as the rest of us, our concerns were dismissed.

With regards to COVID precautions, we have asked the officers to wear masks, to maintain appropriate social distancing,” DePaul spokesperson Kristin Mathews said.

But the problem is, they didn’t. 

They grabbed freely at slices of pizza, yelled — ‘Surprise!’ — in close proximity to each other behind closed doors and used our restrooms without masks, all actions that have been known to increase the likelihood of contracting the virus. 

The university doesn’t suggest that the DePaul community wear masks and social distance — it requires it. For students to be on campus, we have to wear masks at all times; the dining and study areas were completely rearranged to prevent students from crowding and eating together.

The police were given the benefit of the doubt; we were not. Our staff was subjected to further requirements so that we can produce the paper in our office. 

We submitted a detailed social distancing plan weeks in advance, cut the number of staff working full-time in the office in half, prohibit eating in the office and require masks at all times. If a DePaulia staffer engages in risky behavior — eating at a restaurant indoors, traveling out of state or gathering in a large group — they are required to work from home for two weeks. 

The precautions set forth by the university will only succeed if DePaul does its part to keep students safe. The university is skirting its responsibility by allowing outside social gatherings on campus where mask-wearing is not mandatory.

DePaul is playing fast and loose with our lives. It’s reckless. 

And we pay to be here — students spend upward of $40,000 to attend DePaul and utilize its resources. That includes spaces on campus. 

Six months into the pandemic in the country’s third largest city, it’s nearly impossible to find somewhere that is reliably protected from the spread of COVID-19. DePaul all-but-promised students that campus would be an isolated space, meticulously monitored and routinely cleaned to prevent further spread. 

Now, students have reason to question the safety of the DePaul Center and the rest of the buildings across both campuses. We have a right to be informed about situations occurring on campus, especially when they have the potential to put us at risk.

And for some students, police presence on campus alone creates an unsafe environment. 

After George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were killed by the police, DePaul students spoke out against the university’s own ties to the Chicago Police Department through its program with the Fraternal Order of Police, which is a CPD union. The protestors’ message was clear: DePaul cannot authentically align itself with movements working to protect its Black and Brown students while maintaining a relationship with the police. 

The university denied their requests. 

“Student petitions have requested DePaul stop offering courses to CPD officers. We understand this request is rooted in pain, outrage, and the desire to take a stand against police brutality. We need to remember though, the actions of a few do not represent the students we teach,” wrote Interim Provost Salma Ghanem in a statement. 

Taking care of our community requires more than wiping down tables and setting up hundreds of hand sanitizer stations around its largely unused campus. If DePaul wants to commit to the care of its students, its administration needs to listen to our concerns.

The truth is, no outside parties should be allowed to put students at risk during a pandemic. But it’s hard to believe that the university would allow this gathering if the attendees were not police officers, whose badges often yield special privileges.

The risks of such a gathering are abundantly clear. If a student were to contract the virus as a result of the party, it would be a direct result of DePaul’s decision not to enforce its own policies on one group.

What did the university have to gain from allowing this to happen? 

It is hard to understand why the university knowingly allowed an event with the potential to endanger the DePaul community to occur. This is particularly confusing when one considers DePaul’s commitment to the Vincentian mission, which states the importance of service to others.

By giving police free reign on our campus during a global pandemic, who is DePaul serving?

No one should be above following the precautions designed to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Not students, not faculty and certainly not the police. 

We’re taking care of each other; DePaul needs to take care of us, too.