Last week the director of the university's health center sent out a mass email on "flu preparedness." He noted that the tens of thousands of students returning to campus this week will likely bring with them all kinds of nasty germs and bugs. The H1N1 virus is on everybody's minds, of course, but other seemingly less problematic strands of flu could also be a problem this coming year. We faculty are being encouraged to relax our attendance policies and encourage sick students to stay away from the classroom when they are ill. In fact, it's been suggested that we encourage them to head up I-57 and go home to Chicagoland. And a few days ago our local paper actually used the Q-word -- quarantine -- in a story that conjured up an image of returning students as an oozing, sneezing, mass Invasion of the Infected.
We absolutely need to take the public health questions seriously. (I'll admit that I've gone out and bought extra-strength hand-sanitizer.) But in this college town it's all too easy to think of the students as an invading force -- they dart out in front of your car at night while jabbering on their cell phones, they crowd all the good campus lunch spots, and their parents' minivans clog up campus streets during move-in week. Add infectious disease into the mix and it's easy not to want them back at all. Distance learning is sounding better and better all the time...
But today I was reminded that students are infectious in other ways, too. In good ways. We have a lovely program here where undergraduates can serve as teaching interns for classes in which they have performed successfully. Today I met with a student from last semester's Visual Politics class who will be my intern this term. She is smart, engaged, and fun. She showed up in my office full of ideas and energy and she didn't sneeze or cough once. Her excitement was, yes, infectious. So infectious that her unsolicited exclamation of love for an optional archival research assignment caused me to rethink my plan to cut that option from the syllabus. When a student tells you an assignment she did for your class was one of the best experiences she's ever had in college? That, folks, is a no-brainer.
Bring on the invaders.