The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
On January 24th, The Covid Presidential Task Force released an email detailing some information regarding the spring semesters approach to tackling COVID-19. At the beginning of January, we saw an increase in COVID-19 cases. This spike influenced many colleges in the area, including Agnes Scott, to temporarily suspend in-person classes for the first two weeks of the spring semester.
As students begin to acclimate back on campus, many are worried about what is to come of the spring semester. For some, there is worry about the health risks of attending in-person classes. While others may be concerned about continuing their studies virtually. Thankfully, as of February 4th, cases have plummeted from upwards of 15,000+ confirmed cases, to just under 3,700, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.
For the most part, I was torn. Like some of my fellow classmates, I was a bit worried about the dangers of COVID-19. I’m privileged and blessed to not have to worry about immunocompromisation, but I fear for my fellow classmates that are forced to grapple with this. However, I also relate to those that prefer in-person over virtual. Last year, I missed out on an entire year of college, and it had a major impact on my own mental health.
But, as I opened that email, I discovered a new anxiety about this spring semester.
According to the Covid Presidential Task Force, students that miss classes due to a positive COVID-19 case or other illness, should coordinate with professors in order to be placed with necessary material such as worksheets, assigned material documents, and access to film. However, if you are in need of class instruction for your course’s academic success, this will not be required of your professor, as Agnes Scott is currently ‘unable’ to provide a dual/hybrid learning experience.
As I read this, my mind jumped to a whole plethora of outcomes. In 2018, my mother died of cancer. I was 16 years old, and for the first time in my life, I had no means of financial support. I survived off of my mothers social security benefits and whatever disability she had managed to save, as she was a single mother with no steady source of income. We were, with no doubt, low-income government assisted recipients. After the funds dried up, I was left to pay for school all on my own.
I knew going into college that it would be difficult to feel financially secure. Living on campus is significantly more expensive than living at home. But, I am devoted to my studies and I have always done fairly well in school, so I knew that grades wouldn’t be a problem for me.
Although I am confident in my academic abilities, I am especially concerned about the potential of missing nearly a week or more (depending on if I continue to exhibit symptoms after 5 days of quarantining) of in-person lectures and classes. And the way that this email exhibits, makes it seem as though the college is putting the pressures onto the professors, rather than providing the necessary tools to accommodate students and their academic needs.
So, in other words, Agnes Scott may or may not provide you with the necessary materials to succeed in your classes, but it’s really up to the professor to decide.This provides little to no safety net for those of us that may be infected at any time. For potentially a week or more, we may miss important lectures, assignments, or materials just because they are only open to providing an in-person academic program.
So what does that mean for folks who may be in a financially insecure situation, or for those who may be immunocompromised and in need of extra care?
Short answer is, who the hell knows!
Contingency plans, in which administrators provide clear guidelines and language to protect students academically and physically might be a good idea to implement in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. This way, students and faculty will have the time and energy to devote themselves to their academia, rather than the risks of acclimating to their in-person learning experience.
Now, this is not to place any blame on professors. Most, if not all, of the professors that I have come into contact with have been full of grace and flexibility. Many professors have offered to record specific sessions if needed, and post notes and booklets online for students to view.
The question is not, why are professors not doing more to help students, but rather, why is the institution not doing more to provide our educators with the appropriate tools to facilitate these needs?
Students are being forced to wager their physical health for their academic success. For many, missing these vital classes is not an option. Whether that be because of learning disabilities, financial insecurity, or academic probation.
I, for one, can’t afford to fall behind in classes. Most of my scholarships are reliant on my grade point average. If I were to lose this source of income, I would be forced to drop out or transfer. And regardless of if my professors were accommodating to this situation, as I’m sure they would be, the fact that there are no plans in place besides the institution shoving their hands in their pockets and saying, “maybe we will, or maybe we won’t,” just doesn’t seem good enough to me.
Thankfully, SGA decided to facilitate a conversation with the student body about these concerns. On January 26th, students were asked to attend a town hall meeting to discuss. But, like always, the Agnes Scott administration would rather put the pressure on the students and student organizations, than commit their time and energy to properly handling this situation.
In the political realm, a town hall meeting is a communal gathering in which the constituents and representatives have a facilitated two-way discussion about their concerns or comments. Ironically, the administration decided it would be best to hold a virtual town hall meeting in order to maintain physical distance and keep the community safe (right after drilling the point that they would refuse to implement a virtual setting for classes). In the virtual town hall meeting, a facilitated conversation was hardly the case. The administrators refused to turn on chat, or enable the public questions and answers feature. Administrators spent approximately an hour talking AT the student body, and at no time was there a section in which students were actually able to physically voice their own concerns. Students were isolated to their own computers, and any concerns they had were seemingly shouted into the abyss in hopes that SGA or administrators would choose to respond. There was no ability to see how many students were in attendance (Later revealed that 75 students were in attendance), and most of the responses to the questions that were actually answered involved, “we are simply following CDC guidelines.”
In regards to the guest policy, one administrator shared that students were not able to invite guests into their dorms, halls, or buildings. She continued by explaining that administrators and staff also abided by this rule and looked forward to a time in which everyone could welcome outside guests. However, if the college was facilitating a business deal that required the visit of outside guests, that would be allowed.
In other words, if a movie set wants to come to Agnes Scott and film a three second blip of the protagonist walking down Buttrick hall for a couple grand, they can spit on the students for all they care!
Another administrator used a study from Brookings to justify in-person learning. His claims were that students performed worse academically when they were taught in a virtual setting. But this leads to the question, how do students perform when they miss around a week of lessons because administrators refuse to implement a hybrid-learning safety net?
This same administrator also claimed that educators have been instructed to be flexible with COVID-19, however, if they were not being flexible, that students should advocate for themselves and their academic success. Once again, the stresses of COVID-19 falling onto the student, rather than administration implementing a clear and coherent academic safety net for their students.
And finally, they also claimed that Agnes Scott was not capable or prepared to facilitate a hybrid mode of instruction because of lack of microphones and cameras through ITS.
You would think with all of these on-campus business deals that require outside guests, we would be able to afford that.
The bottom line is that Agnes Scott’s Covid Presidential Task Force continues to fail the students. Their lack of communication has led to confusion and misunderstanding. Their lack of leadership has forced students to pick up their slack. And most importantly, their hypocritical rules have allowed for a very obvious message: Agnes Scott College is a corporation. And like every corporation, we are their means of financial gain.
If Agnes Scott College cannot afford to go virtual for another year, they better be able to afford the appropriate measures to protect the physical and mental health, as well as the financial and academic security of all that contribute to its successes as an institution.