In the past few days, Liberty University, a private institution in Lynchburg, Virginia, has been subjected to the relentless criticism of the American press and public. The New York Times, Politico, The Guardian, and other news outlets reported on the status of the University throughout the last week of March, criticizing the University’s President, Jerry Falwell Jr., for making questionable comments in interviews and acting rashly. In an editorial piece, The Washington Post referred to the President’s decision as exhibiting a “staggering level of ignorance,” when he decided to reopen the campus after spring break.
“Unfortunately, Western media has consistently embraced the panic ignited by the global spread of COVID-19, and Liberty University is the next unfortunate victim in its unrelenting quest for a climate of unprecedented fear.”
These brazen critiques have certainly garnered the attention of the public, motivating thousands of disgruntled Americans to attack the University’s Instagram account with harsh messages about the school’s recklessness. These attacks would be well deserved, assuming they were based in accuracy; but they are not. Unfortunately, Western media has consistently embraced the panic ignited by the global spread of COVID-19, and Liberty University is the next unfortunate victim in its unrelenting quest for a climate of unprecedented fear.
Most of the unfavorable reports began on March 25, 2020, when Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia openly criticized Liberty University for allowing students to return to campus and suggested that Liberty “look to the actions of the leaders of Virginia’s flagship universities” to better inform their decision. Governor Northam would have Liberty look to leaders of institutions like the University of Virginia, whose dining services and dormitories remain open to approved students that cannot leave campus because of safety concerns in their hometowns or countries, just like Liberty University. Governor Northam would have Liberty emulate the actions of Virginia Tech, which has reported nearly 1,000 students remaining on campus, a number that continues to decline daily, just like Liberty University. To make matters worse, before publicly criticizing the school, the Virginian governor had already sent state health inspectors on a surprise visit to the Lynchburg campus, where they reported all facilities were in compliance with Executive Order 53, which placed strict regulations on all non-essential businesses. Despite this knowledge, Governor Northam spoke out against Liberty University, claiming they had failed to protect their students and the community.
“This is not business as usual.”
In the days following the Governor’s comments, media outlets began to report that “things [were] business as usual” at Liberty University; this could not be further from the truth. All residential classes were moved online less than two days into spring break, and faculty was encouraged to work from home. The overwhelming majority of students returned to campus to collect their things and return to their hometowns, leaving less than 900 students in the dormitories. At a university with nearly 1,000 international students, this number is wholly legitimate. Dining locations closed all sitting areas and all self-service stations are now manned by employees using disposable equipment. The recreational facilities have been dismantled. All clubs and athletic events have been suspended. The library is strictly regulated, and all group study areas were closed. Signage displaying phrases like “Closed for Social Distancing,” “Wash Hands for 20 Seconds,” etc. have been posted on virtually every available mirror, wall, or table. Liberty University has transformed from a thriving community of more than 15,000 students into a glorified apartment complex in less than a week. This is not business as usual.
Adding to the incorrect reports, in the past 24 hours, articles have begun to suggest students at Liberty University have tested positive for COVID-19. Although no current residential student has tested positive, one graduated student and a full-time resident of Lynchburg has contracted the virus, to the almost elation of the American media. Interestingly enough, a number of colleges have already identified positive cases within their own communities, including some of Governor Northam’s beloved flagships, like James Madison University, the University of Virginia, and Virginia Tech, but these institutions have received little media attention. This virus has infiltrated every facet of American life, and all college communities and their students can expect to feel these pressures.
“I am offended on the behalf of Liberty University, my University, and its students that deserve to live in a world that values the truth.”
As a full-time student at Liberty University, I am extremely offended by the dishonesty of both Governor Northam and the press that has rallied behind him. The Governor of Virginia deceptively villainized a university that he knew was fully complying with all state health regulations. The media has published thousands of words dedicated to destroying a university that has done what other institutions have done in the wake of an unprecedented and evolving public health crisis. I am offended on behalf of international students, who live in China and the Bahamas and Italy, in countries they cannot return to, forced to apologize because they have not been left homeless. I am offended on behalf of students that live in New York City and Seattle, attacked for staying away from cities far more dangerous than their dorm rooms. I am offended on behalf of students that have done their part and returned to their permanent residence, forfeiting the rest of their semester. I am offended on behalf of our seniors, who have had their commencement ceremony moved to September and lost the opportunity to make the memories they have dreamed of for four years. I am offended on behalf of a student body that gathers weekly to hear from and respect speakers with a drastic range of views, like Ben Shapiro and Bernie Sanders, and has always strived to create an environment of excellence and respect. I am offended on behalf of a University community that, as a graduation requirement, dedicates more than 500,000 hours of service to the Lynchburg community, with many students going above and beyond these commitments. I am offended on the behalf of Liberty University, my University, and its students that deserve to live in a world that values the truth.