EMU partners in public health campaigns

Eastern Mennonite University is participating in two public health campaigns calling on the community and university students to prioritize public health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A video produced by Sentara RMH features presidents of Eastern Mennonite University, James Madison University, Blue Ridge Community College and Bridgewater College, Sentara RMH medical center president Doug Moyer, and Harrisonburg Mayor Deanna Reed.

Watch the video.

EMU was also among local organizations partnering with the United Way, in a campaign called “Be Vigilant for the Valley.” The campaign is also being promoted by Rockingham County Public Schools, the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce, Rockingham County, Faith in Action, Bridgewater Retirement Community, Central Shenandoah Health District, the City of Harrisonburg, Harrisonburg City Public Schools, the Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community, JMU, Bridgewater College, Sunnyside Retirement Community, Blue Ridge Community College, and Sentara RMH.

Laura Toni-Holsinger, executive director of the United Way of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, said the concept of “COVID-19 commitments” came from EMU’s Dean of Students, Shannon Dycus

EMU has an internal document that all students, faculty, and staff have been asked to sign, in which they agree to maintain social distance, wear face coverings, and stay home if they experience any coronavirus symptoms.

A group of local leaders discussed creating a version of these commitments that would be appropriate for institutions, not just individuals – “high standards that we would all commit to and hold each other accountable to,” said Toni-Holsinger. 

Those local leaders include presidents of the four colleges, nonprofit leaders, school district superintendents, Mayor Deanna Reed, and first responders. They meet to “troubleshoot together, and that has been very fruitful,” Toni-Holsinger said. Some state-level elected officials have participated via phone as well. 

Toni-Holsinger said the goal is not to shame others into compliance, but to take care of one another. 

“I think it is a powerful statement when you have both localities and the universities and the chamber of commerce on the same document,” she said. “We’re committed to do whatever it takes to keep these numbers down.” 

City and institutional leaders have their work cut out for them, as college students begin to return to campuses in the Valley, and some local residents continue to gather in large groups. Toni-Holsinger hopes the commitments will help create a culture in Harrisonburg that influences both permanent residents and students who left a very different sort of college town this spring, before anyone knew the longevity of the pandemic and the extent to which it would affect everyday life.

“People respond to the environment that they arrive in. They respond to norms,” she said. “They’re coming back to a different Harrisonburg.”

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