by Kris van der Voorn
Last week a column appeared on the website of Utrecht University’s news platform DUB named “Ik zal jullie niet verraden” (I won’t betray you). This particular column discusses the measures taken by the university to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus. RevUU wants to comment on the implications of this piece.
The column was written by a student for students—a group where the loneliness and financial instability of this last year have caused a rise in mental health issues. Here is a text that seems to tell them that the spread of this virus is only “natural”. Let it do its job, and oh, don’t wash your hands. The virus is our friend.
We saw the positive comments concerning the writing itself and we do want to say that it is a celebration of creative writing. It is written beautifully melodic, succinct, and convincing. However, in a time like this on the verge of a curfew and visitation ban we have to consider the implications of a statement like this. Especially when the writer is nominated by a jury to become campus columnist of the year.
This text displays a privilege in proclaiming that we should just let this virus act as an exterminator to make sure our population is “controlled”. In a time of a global pandemic with over 2 million dead, what arrogance and apathy to just stand above all the despair that has scourged our world for over a year to proclaim that the virus happened for the greater good.
Because what greater good are we actually talking about here? The herd that will survive this virus is that of the rich, able-bodied, and most likely majority Western population. There is already talk of a lack in vaccinations in the whole continent of Africa because wealthier countries bought all the vaccinations for themselves. And we are not just talking far overseas here. How about the people in our own country that have been stuck at home all this time because they belong to a group at risk?
At this point there is even a connection made between the “war” on the vaccine and the second world war, and the Jews that had to go into hiding. Especially in a time where antisemitism is on the rise again, we question whether a comparison to the Holocaust is appropriate. To use the continued pain of genocide in connection to this virus is problematic to say the least.
As students of literature there is one question that we constantly ask ourselves: what is the importance of studying literature; what is the purpose of analyzing text? It is the very question we were asked at the beginning of our MA Literature Today, and it is the question that helps us shape our expertise in the field. Literature is everywhere; texts are everywhere. Their impact on our world is the reason why we study words: we should not take them for granted.
We study words because we see how they can possibly become dangerous, even if they don’t intend to be. For example, Trump’s Twitter account was recently banned by the platform because it encouraged aggressive and precarious behaviour. Lies about corona that were claimed only yesterday at Museumplein were uttered by a homeopathic doctor, whom people believed because of his status. Think about the consequences of utterances like this: even after 25 years of one specialist falsely proclaiming that vaccines cause autism, we still experience a surge in anti-vaxxers all over the world. Texts have an impact on our society, so we have to be careful about which texts we give a platform to.
We cannot afford to scoff at the university’s effort at trying to bond all students together in a global pandemic, even if only a small minority will reap the rewards. We must help students find each other in a time like this.
And so, we will wash our hands from a statement that proclaims to do otherwise. Thoroughly; as instructed.
Kris van der Voorn is one of the Autumn chief editors and current designer of RevUU. They are a non-binary writer and spoken word performer, currently pursuing the Literature Today Master’s at Utrecht University. They specialize in queer and politically engaged literature. Their goal is to make RevUU as diverse and inclusive as possible. Aside from their studies, Kris works at Savannah Bay, one of Utrecht’s finest bookshops. They are also a content creator for the online platform VOOS.
Author image by Lee Russell