Diana Kugel: The beginning of the school year often means feeling under the weather

Regardless of whether it is your first time at GW, or if you are a seasoned senior, the first month back to school is hectic for everyone. What with committing yourself to way more activities than you actually have time for, meeting new friends and reuniting with old ones and this pesky little thing called classes, most students barely have a minute to breathe in September.

With all of this going on, the last thing anyone wants is to get sick as soon as they get back to campus. Unfortunately, it seems that the minute students step foot on Foggy Bottom each year some strain of virus seems to spread throughout the school like wildfire.

Less than a week into the school year, it starts. Half of your friends on Facebook have their status listed as “sick” or “dying.” The supposedly silent sixth floor of the library is actually a chorus of sniffles and sneezes. Your lecture halls and seminar rooms are much emptier then they should be, even in the classes where the professor takes attendance. And you know that as soon as one of your friends gets sick, it is only a matter of time before everyone else gets a turn.

No, the air around Foggy Bottom is not toxic. Before writing this column, I checked with friends at various other schools, just to make sure I wasn’t imagining things. Stories confirm that within weeks of being back at school, students all seem to get sick right away, for no apparent reason.

It is actually not that difficult to see how this would happen. Being back on a crazy college-life schedule means sleeping only if and when there is time, eating massive amounts of greasy pizza and constantly being in close quarters with hundreds of other students. With all of this wreaking havoc on students’ immune systems, it really should not be that surprising that colds and viruses spread so quickly throughout campus.

What can be done about this? If there is one thing that I can say for GW, it is that I have never before known an institution with so many different organizations that aim to create programs and events for the student body. From the Student Association, to the Residence Hall Association, to RAC, to the House Staff, to Program Board, there are organizations galore.

No, I am not suggesting that the SA sponsor research that would find the cure for the common cold. Nor am I proposing that house staff should make sure students that are in bed and asleep by 10:30 p.m. However, there is plenty that could be done in the way of smaller programs that would promote student health.

For instance, instead of yet another ice-cream social, one of the aforementioned organizations could give out fruit or vitamin C tablets to students, travel-sized hand sanitizer and antibacterial soap. Encourage students to keep their space clean to minimize the spread of germs. Remind students that sharing drinks at parties could very well mean sharing a cold for the next week. All of this seems very basic, and it is, but if students can make a conscious decision to try and stay healthy, it just may cut down on the number of people missing class the second week of school due to illness.

While there are periodic health fairs that focus on getting students to exercise, to help them avoid contracting serious diseases and to prevent mental illness, a bit more focus should be put on helping students avoid smaller colds and viruses, which can put someone out of commission for a week.

Everyone knows that being sick in college is the worst. Mom and Dad aren’t here to baby you when you don’t feel well, and even the best roommate can only do so much for you. And no one really wants to brave a trip to Student Health. While a health program may seem silly, and the suggestion of handing out vitamin C may come across as trivial, it is really the small things that can spare students three or four miserable days. Would you rather wash your hands an extra time, or be stuck in bed all weekend?

Of course, the ultimate responsibility falls on students to try and remain healthy. Every student organization on campus could tell someone to eat an apple every now and then or stop sharing drinks with people they meet five minutes ago, but unless that student chooses to listen, it won’t do much good.

We are all young and in college. Even this early in the semester, it feels like there are three things that need to be done for every hour that you have free. Why waste a perfectly good week by running a fever and coughing up your lungs, just because you thought that there was no way you would get sick sitting next to your friend who was sneezing his head off? Through a combination of simple yet effective programming and some straightforward student common sense, we may be able to curtail another season of swigging Tylenol between classes.

The writer, a sophomore majoring in psychology, is a Hatchet contributing opinions editor.

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