After enduring a year and a half of remote learning, we are about to finish our second month of classes; it feels bittersweet. Once again we are dealing with the trials and tribulations of establishing a “new normal.” Although we are back on campus, we are transitioning into a new type of pandemic learning. There is eagerness, anticipation, as well as worry about what this year has in store for us Poets. Hopefully, we will not be sent home in the middle of the school year this time.
According to Whittier College’s website, there is no mention of the size of classrooms. For the most part, desks are not six feet apart. In most classrooms, there is tape on the floor indicating where students should sit, but, to my observation, none of the desks are placed within the tape marks on the floor. This is very perplexing because there are not even enough of these spike marks for the number of desks in the room. So what purpose do these marks even serve if they are not observed and are inconsistent? In most of my classes, I can still bump elbows with my classmates. Aside from the masks, the classroom environment is reminiscent of the early months of 2020.
Though I can see how it would be nearly impossible in buildings like Platner, Wardman, and other older buildings on campus, classes should not be held in small, narrow, and cramped rooms where social distancing is not possible. Whittier’s solution: to make a seating chart for contact tracing. Definitely, an effort to keep track of cases, but what if you are unfortunate enough to be sat next to a student who has been exposed? You now have to suffer the consequences of another student’s actions. Personally, it would be very frustrating if I were to be exposed because I would risk falling behind in my classes, which could affect not only my grades, but my graduation status.
If you do find yourself exposed and are fully vaccinated and asymptomatic Whittier College’s website states that you “are permitted to attend class and academic activities, [but you] are not allowed to participate in on or off-campus social activities until they receive a negative test result (three to five days after exposure) or have completed modified quarantine for 10 days.” I find this perplexing. I understand that students do not want to fall behind in their classes, but a classroom is just as public as any social activity. Many people come into contact with more people in the classroom than in their social circles. There needs to be accommodations for students who have to quarantine, such as joining class via zoom or having access to class recordings so that students do not fall behind.
Speaking of contact tracing, under the contact tracing section of the campus response measures, “the entire campus community will be notified of COVID-19 outbreaks (occurrence of three or more epidemiologically linked cases within a 14-day period) and of the measures that will be implemented to control the spread.” After three weeks of classes, the college finally sent an email out with some concrete numbers of the students who have had to quarantine and who have tested positive. These type of emails should be a weekly occurrence, as Whittier needs to be transparent about the number of cases in order to assert the effectiveness of the safety measures and precautions in place on campus. The lack of transparency is very frustrating because students and faculty are entitled to know whether or not campus is safe from the virus.
When it comes to the air conditioning units in classrooms the school has “evaluated the operation of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems to help minimize the chance of spreading COVID-19 through airborne exposure. The College is following guidance from the State and the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) regarding maintenance and system modifications to maximize ventilation and filtration.” What does this mean for the buildings that are not fortunate enough to have air conditioning? Open up your doors and windows. The school does encourage classrooms to open windows and doors for proper ventilation; however, most classrooms do not follow this suggestion. Normally, during this time of year, the classrooms are stuffy; when you add a three-layer cloth mask into that equation, the room can feel even more humid. In no way am I opposed to wearing masks; in fact, I feel like the study body can make more of a conscious effort to wear their masks properly, especially because we have been wearing them for a year and a half. Nevertheless, I just wish there was more air circulation because continuously wearing a face mask, especially in the summer heat, makes any room feel like it is 10 degrees hotter.
Keeping all of this in mind, it is important to remember that the school has had time to prepare for the return of students as other universities in the country had in-person classes during the 2020 – 21 school year. I hope that this is just a bump in the road and just an adjustment period for a successful and safe school year.
Featured Photo: Dafne Avila / Quaker Campus