Junior Year: College in a Pandemic
This year was challenging. The nature of a pandemic meant a year bereft of in-person classes, certain research opportunities, seeing people I care about, travel, concerts, and many other things that make life on campus so exciting and fulfilling. It also brought significant personal challenges as I experienced loss in my family and so much tragedy in the world around me. However, as I reflect on the last year and the occurrence of global events I could have never expected, the moments that dominate my memory are those of community. I was able to build stronger friendships with people I care about, build up organizations that are directly saving lives, and grow ties with a city that has experienced so much trauma over the last year.
The SOAR Initiative, a nonprofit that I started with other students who are now my closest friends, was given tremendous opportunities to make a difference in this past year. People who use drugs have faced enormous difficulties during the pandemic. Overdose death rates in Franklin County, Ohio, and the United States reached record levels. In 2020, it is projected that nearly 100,000 people died from overdose in our country, nearly 30,000 deaths more than the previous record. This is a level of death from something completely preventable that is absolutely unacceptable. In an effort to provide people with the resources they need to stay alive and as healthy as possible, we established a partnership with Columbus Public Health worth up to $49,000 to set up a text alert system and phone app that now has over 500 subscribers. We have given out thousands of fentanyl test strips to people who need them and created a network of community members collectively working to keep each other safe. As we end the year, we discovered that not only are we finalists for Philanthropitch, a prestigious social impact pitch competition, but we were approved for a State Opioid Response grant to expand our services across the entire state. I am so proud of the work that we have accomplished and the relationships we have built with folks in the community. I look forward to the work ahead, but keep in mind the thousands that we have lost in the past year. Their memories motivate our work to ensure that no person dies from a preventable overdose.
Additionally, through my work as the president of Buckeyes for Harm Reduction, we have expanded access to Narcan, fentanyl test strips, and other resources on OSU’s campus. My fellow students are increasingly at risk of fentanyl exposure and unfortunately, there have been overdoses in our campus community that have largely been ignored. Our organization has given out supplies directly to keep people safe and put on events to inform students about the extent of the overdose crisis in our community and on our campus. Furthermore, we have partnered with the Honors and Scholars Semester of Service to grow our club and I am excited to continue this growth in the next year as president.
Overall, my work around the overdose crisis has been the focus of this past year. The pain in Columbus and around the country from the amount of death we’ve encountered has been difficult, not only from those who have died from overdose, but also from those who have died from COVID-19, systemic racism and the police, mental health challenges, and the other tragedies that have been especially salient this past year. I am grateful to many of my professors who have been accommodating as we navigated this past year and I’m pleased with performance in my coursework and in my research. However, the last year has reminded me of why I do what I do: to give back to a community that has given me so much. This motivates my coursework, research, the organizations that I am involved with, community service, and all aspects of my personal and professional life. I look forward to a year that looks a little more normal, but I want to ensure that a return to “normal” does not mean a return to a status quo that left so many people behind. The activism and work that dominated this past year will continue into this next year and I look forward to the work ahead.