The Collegian
Monday, April 15, 2024

UR Alert: Fox v. Flu

Absurd: (adj.) ridiculously unreasonable; having no rational or orderly relationship to human life. From the French absurde, from the Latin absurdus: deaf, stupid. No alternate pronunciations. But alternate connotations for sure.

The dynamic connotation of, "That's absurd," can mean unreasonably bad, or, unreasonably good. The lack of reason and orderly relationship to our lives creates discord, or, creates possibility as we are made aware of something that would have never entered our consciousness otherwise.

But most times, that absurdity falls along a spectrum, and its sole purpose is to amuse.

And the absurdity this week comes through e-mail ... or lack thereof.

Subject line: Potentially Rabid Fox Spotted Near Campus. I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried. One of University Communications' first campus-wide e-mails, and it really proved itself a vital organ of the community, a watchdog to guard our health and safety.

But, I suppose absurd news is better than bad news. I don't like animals, but if given the option, I'd rather show down a not-even-rabid but "potentially rabid" fox than the wigged gunman who tried to check out books at the library two years ago. The ballsy bookworm may have failed to check our social schedule to learn we'd all be at Beach Week, not Boatwright, but the UR Alert system seemed a success as it flooded our inboxes with texts and voicemails.

And last weekend, the fox e-mail offered a welcome social stimulus for small talk across campus, so at least we can be assured the alert system still works. Or does it?

As we scoured the wooded area by the B-School, where the P.R.F. was last reported to be "acting erratically," little did we know that swine flu had slithered its way onto campus. After the South-Court secret slipped Sunday night about the quarantined lepers (woohoo Collegian online), I checked my e-mail expectantly Monday morning and was surprised at what I found.

Nothing. Well, aside from the notification from The Group for the Safety of Your Mother (TGFTSOYM) - which tricked me into joining at the student organizations fair by threatening that my mom could be eaten by a bear (apparently animals are becoming quite the threat these days) - that Mother's Day was in 21,772,800 seconds.

But no subject lines about the swine. That a tiny leper colony of two, three, four students had confirmed cases of H1N1 influenza.

An e-mail was sent to the staff and faculty, yet nothing to the students. The first e-mail we received wasn't until almost 7 p.m., and opened with the jargon-y line that university administrators had been "tasked with implementing the University's response in the event that the H1N1 (swine) flu becomes prevalent on our campus. This communication serves as an update to the recent letter you were sent."

"Second notice," Cher from "Clueless" echoed inside my head. "I don't remember getting a first notice." I re-checked my inbox - the "recent letter" didn't exist. The university never told us that students had swine at all, only notified us that surgical masks and vaccines had been ordered, as if administrators had simply decided it seemed a good time to gear up for swine.

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In fact, the quarantined were told by the university not to say they had swine at all. But ... they did, they said. The off-campus doctor had confirmed it, even if the health center clung to only "influenza 1."

We then let the two leps in South go hungry, and they weren't fed until their leper friend, who is from Richmond and had gone home, received their S.O.S. for sustenance and called the school.

"The university was not unwilling to get them the supplies they needed or the food they needed," the homebound student wrote in a message, "but it took me and my mom calling them and nagging them to do it. My mom even brought [the quarantined] over soup today because they were so hungry but knew they couldn't go to D-Hall."

Admittedly, I thought swine was hysterical until reading that one lep said it felt "like someone's eating my brain with a spoon" and hearing the colony had grown to 11.

But that we were alerted about a potentially rabid fox off campus, yet not about multiple students with swine flu on campus, is absurd.

Now I'm willing to give University Communications the benefit of the doubt on the e-mail mis-emphasis. Maybe it was being overcautious about the swine, unsure of Sophos Anti-virus' capability to capture cyber-swine. And the "rabid fox" could be more prevalent than we think - with Frat Row opening soon enough, would it be overestimating U.Comm to wonder whether it mails in metaphors?

If you keep enough perspective, the discord gives way to amusement. And sometimes, the amusement is an end in itself. But if an absurdity unsettles you enough, if you press back, the discord disintegrates and the amusement ignites possibility. What can we change? What could be better?

"It's not like people don't get hurt or sick on weekends," the swine students agreed, listing limited health center hours as their biggest complaint in the article online. "It's absurd. They should always be open."

But the point is, you'll never know if you're not paying attention.

For all past and future occasions that I criticize Richmond, we do have an advantage on our small campus with a normally receptive faculty and staff and where the opportunities to invest yourself are numerous and waiting for you to inspire more.

Ask questions, join something, start something, submit requests. Granted they might be denied - the line of breads and cereals I recently requested at ETC, Ezekiel 3:65, is apparently religiously offensive - but see how far you can press back. If only to stay amused, or maybe, even to change something.

You have a whole year ahead of you, so start taking notice. And submit what you find, preferably in 500-600 words by Sunday. My inbox has come to welcome the absurd.

Contact staff writer Maura Bogue at

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