Unfortunately for too many students, the traditional back-to-school checklist has a morbid addition this year, courtesy of the COVID-19 pandemic and a very straightforward Yale professor. After obtaining all the notebooks and overpriced printer ink cartridges and elaborate calculators that will be used most often to spell BOOBS, there’s one more important bit of school prep to take care of: Emotionally preparing for death—your death, the death of a friend or loved one, etc. Washington Post reporter Hannah Natanson discovered this rather blunt statement from Yale’s Head of College and psych professor Laurie Santos, perhaps not-so-curiously tucked away at the bottom of a Yale Daily News report. The quote is taken from Santos’ July 1 email to residents of the school’s Silliman College, announcing Yale’s plans to reopen on-campus housing. It makes for quite the welcome letter:
We all should be emotionally prepared for widespread infections—and possibly deaths—in our community. You should emotionally prepare for the fact that your residential college life will look more like a hospital unit than a residential college.
The U.S. is famously a death-denying country, so the idea of acknowledging our own mortality—let alone fully preparing for it—is kind of a huge ask for most people. Yet Santos’ email is refreshingly frank in a country where the government can’t wrap its head around taking care of citizens on the most basic level, and an alarming number of said citizens reject wearing masks as an infringement of freedom. And let’s not even get started on the absurdly high percentage of people who wouldn’t take a COVID-19 vaccine if offered. Is the idea of emotionally preparing for death kind of fucked up? Yes. But for some people it might also be a necessary step to encourage safer behaviors, and clearly “screaming inside our hearts” hasn’t quite taken hold the way we’d hoped.