by Sydney Gayton ’23
While college is still certainly strange compared to those of us who experienced it prior to March of 2020, this semester is starting to feel a little more “normal”. Providence College has resumed fully in-person classes, and has brought back many of the events we all know and love, such as Homecoming Weekend, Board of Programmers’ Provapalooza, and re-opening McPhail’s. With all of these events, we almost forget that we are still in the midst of a global pandemic.
Although 97% of undergraduate students and 96% of faculty and staff are vaccinated as of this week, we are still not out of the woods. Students are still at risk of being exposed to and contracting COVID-19, and to add to this stress, they face falling behind in classes, as professors are no longer required to offer a Zoom option or record lectures.
It is definitely nice to be back in the classroom and have the ability for face-to-face interactions, something that a lot of people missed last year. The general census of students not just at PC, but at other schools as well, is that it was harder to learn in a dorm room with roommates and other distractions, instead of a classroom where it isn’t an option to turn off cameras or lay in bed. When a professor is looking at you in person while asking a question, it’s much harder to conveniently lose wifi and get disconnected from Zoom.
The main argument against recording lectures or offering a remote option for classes this semester is that students will take advantage of them when they don’t have a valid reason to not show up to class. The administration and professors’ qualms of providing remote options for classes are understandable, but what about the students who test positive for COVID-19, were in close contact with someone who did, or are experiencing symptoms that could either be COVID-19 or just the “freshman plague”?
Students in these circumstances are put in the difficult spot of potentially exposing others to the virus, or risk hurting their grades and ability to learn now that they are unable to participate in classes or listen to online lectures. Samantha Smith ’23 faced this dilemma the second week of the semester after being in close contact with someone the day before they tested positive. Although the school has loosened its contact tracing and close contact protocol, she decided to go home to wait for her 2 negative tests to avoid potentially infecting those around her. Smith missed a full week of classes and although her professors provided her with the notes she missed in class, she was not able to get the full learning experience that comes with being physically in the classroom or listening in on the lecture.
On the College’s website, the school released a statement saying, “Unlike the 2020- 2021 academic year, students may not have remote access to classes while in isolation or quarantine”, underneath their other COVID-19 protocols.
One other aspect the school has failed to take into consideration is how difficult isolation is for students’ mental health. Katherine Cleary ’23, who was isolated in the Marriott last year after being deemed a “close contact,” says, “Having online classes was extremely helpful, as they not only alleviated my anxiety and stress emanating from my having to miss class, but they also offered a useful distraction and a way to spend my seemingly endless amount of time [in quarantine]”. While quarantine is difficult and lonely already, not having the ability to attend online classes to receive any sort of human contact or provide a distraction seems terrible.
While it may require more effort from professors, is it that difficult to send out a zoom link to students with a documented reason as to why they cannot come to class? If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s how to adapt to nonideal circumstances and be flexible and understanding. If the College and its faculty wants their students to thrive, they should change their current protocol to allow students with extenuating circumstances to attend class via Zoom or at least have access to a recorded lecture for social and academic purposes.