March 26, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 36°F


Commentary: Community Solidarity is a Necessity — A SHEL Perspective

A SHEL, or a Student Health Emergency Liaison, is a new position on the Ithaca College campus this spring. We’re a group of student interns who work in Emerson Hall, Terrace 13 and across campus helping the Return to Campus Task Force. A normal day in the life of a SHEL involves arriving at Emerson Hall and being greeted and briefed by the SHEL members who were there before you. The member that was at the desk will wipe down everything that they touched and head out of the office so you can maintain proper protocol of six feet. Alex Devers and Samm Swarts, the coordinators, will then pop out of their office and ask you to complete whatever task they might have. Some examples include running meals to students or setting up quarantine rooms. As I said before, that’s a normal day. Things started to get more hectic as more students started to arrive.

I’m currently a junior Public and Community Health Major with double minors in Legal Studies and Health Policy and Management. When granted the opportunity, the SHEL position with Ithaca College has only furthered my passion for public health and given me an inside look at just how important it is. To be quite honest, I don’t think anyone knew just exactly what SHELs were going to do. Devers and Swarts just knew they were going to need extra help with safely bringing students back to campus. The other SHELs and I were fitted with N90 respirators so we could safely be around COVID-positive students along with proper PPE and HIPPA training provided by the Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management. We then went through hours of training with Alex and Samm about responding accordingly to sensitive situations.

SHELs have a lot of responsibility, as this is a full-time internship for us. Most SHELs are receiving anywhere from two to six credit hours this semester. We do everything from virtual check-ins with students and handing out dinner to setting up quarantine rooms and doing rounds on the isolation floor. Along with that, some SHELs also assist with sample collection across campus. As a group, we have to follow COVID protocol and uphold professionalism, as we’re dealing with sensitive information daily.

It’s important to note that even though I have this position, I’m still a 20-year-old student. Yes, I want to go to parties, hang out with my friends and have a normal semester, but I know I can’t. I have a responsibility to keep myself and my community safe. I’m not saying I’m perfect — I’ve slipped up a few times this pandemic and been around too many people at times. Having this position on campus has shown me just how dangerous that is.

As a community, I feel we need to do better. Coming home from a long day at work after wearing a respirator for 6 or more hours and seeing images of 50-plus kids at a party is a slap in the face, to be honest. As I stated before, the more students that arrive on campus, the more hectic my job gets.

My team and I are doing the best we can. We’re really trying to make sure everyone gets a full semester on campus, but if parties and large gatherings continue, it’s not going to be easy, or it might not happen at all. This is a group effort.

I hope that sharing my struggles and concerns about what I’ve been seeing only 3 weeks into the semester will educate students and help students and faculty see the importance of staying safe this year.