by Alexa Schwerha
KSU Covid Safety Coalition, a student-led organization at Kent State University, held a virtual “die-in” protest Tuesday to pressure the school administration to adopt stricter COVID-19 guidelines.
The virtual protest occurred over Microsoft Teams and featured students and faculty voicing their opinions on the university’s response to the pandemic.
Natalia Cruz, a third-year student at Kent State, spoke first about the “sorry excuse of a response and plan in regards to the COVID 19 pandemic.”
“In reality, we as students should not have to be here today, demanding that our school care about us. But alas, we live in a capitalistic society,” Cruz continued.
“I’m here because it is not fair that the rest of us have to worry about staying safe when we have all done our part,” one student participant said. “The unvaccinated get to roam the university consequence free when at first we were told it was REQUIRED!”
Lauren Vachon, assistant professor of LGBTQ studies at the university, spoke about the history of die-in protests, referring to action taken during the HIV/AIDS epidemic by the activist organization ACT UP.
“ACT UP activists used radical activist tactics,” Vachon explained, and cited shutting down the New York Stock Exchange, disrupting World Health Organization summits, and storming the National Institutes of Health as actions taken by the group.
Participants then posted photographs of their die-in, in which they simulate being dead, and used the hashtags #FlashesTakeCareOfFlashes, #DeadAndDisabledByKentState, and #StudentSafeSix.
The virtual die-in instructions encouraged students to tag Kent State administrators including President Todd Diacon and Senior Vice President for Student Affairs Lamar Hylton.
“We recognize our community members hold different opinions about Covid-19, and they are free to express their views in a respectful and peaceful manner following university procedures,” Kent State Assistance Vice President for University Communications & Marketing Eric Mansfield told Campus Reform.
Organizers originally planned to hold the die-in on the “K,” the university quad but made the event remote due to inclement weather.
The coalition still intends to flood university administration officials’ inboxes after Tuesday’s event.
Kent State’s COVID-19 policy currently mandates the vaccine for students, faculty, and staff. It also requires masks to be worn “inside all buildings, and are strongly recommended outdoors where six feet of social distancing cannot be maintained.”
The KSU Covid Safety Coalition is urging the university to adopt “Student Safe Six,” a set of half-a-dozen COVID precaution measures. These requirements include mandated PCR testing and KN95 masks.
The coalition’s petition, which has amassed over 1,000 signatures, asserts that its claims are supported by the “most up-to-date scientific information about the Omicron variant and statements from the Kent City Health Department.”
But not every student agrees with the coalition’s demands.
Matthew Smith, a member of the Kent State College Republicans, told Campus Reform that the protest was an “absolute joke.”
Smith said that while remote learning should not be the standard, there should be accommodations for those who have tested positive or are ill.
“When these kids get out in the real world, their ‘demands’ will not fly,” he stated. “Their supervisors would not take any of this from them. They are entitled and the world owes them nothing.”
Sydney Smith, Turning Point USA at Kent State President Campus Coordinator, told Campus Reform that the number of students in opposition to mandates is greater than those for it.
“I can confidently say there are more students here on campus pushing against the vaccine and testing mandates than the 20 people who decided to post a picture of them ‘dying,'” Smith said.
Smith also voiced concern over the impact a return to online classes could have on the mental health of students.
“The mental health crisis that is plaguing our generation is proof that, if this university does not care about our health, they would reopen campus,” she said. “Kent State should be offering the full college experience, the one that we are paying a lot of money for.”
Campus Reform spoke with students earlier this month who expressed similar concerns about how remote instruction may be worsening young people’s senses of isolation and depression.
A participant in the virtual protest who opposed the demands was, consequentially, removed from the setting. The group has admitted to blocking and removing comments from accounts that are “not constructive.”
Campus Reform has reached out to Kent State University for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.
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Alexa Schwerha is a reporter for Campus Reform. She was the Regional Field Coordinator at Leadership Institute for Texas and New Mexico. She graduated Kent State University with a degree in Communication Studies and Political Science. On campus, she served on the executive board of the Kent State Turning Point USA chapter, founded Students for Trump at Kent State, and was the Campaign Liaison for the Kent State College Republicans.
Photo “Lauren Vachon” by Kent State University. Background Photo “Kent State University” by Kentstate1910. CC BY-SA 4.0.