Travis Stoker, The Seahawk
On June 2, UNC Wilmington’s (UNCW) Chancellor Jose V. Sartarelli sent out an email to students and staff informing them of their plan for the fall 2020 semester amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The full message can be found here.
The major changes to the schedule included canceling fall break (Oct. 8-9), and pushing up the end of the semester to Nov. 24 for the last of classes, having reading day the following day and finals taking place online from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3.
UNCW’s plan follows in suit with many other N.C. schools like NC State, UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke and many others.
However other universities like California State University and its respective 23 campuses announced they will continue fall 2020 online. Meanwhile, the University of Texas will be offering a combination of both online and in-person classes for the fall, by upping available online classes to 20%.
However, many, ourselves included, were left concerned and disappointed with the decision UNCW made—especially given the uncertainty still surrounding COVID-19 and the fact that there probably will not be a vaccine available until 2021.
We have a lot of lingering questions. Will facemasks will be mandatory(they better be)? How does the university plan on keeping the campus clean throughout the semester (think classrooms, the library, student centers, recreation center, etc…)? What social distancing guidelines will be in place? How will the dining halls run?
In addition, concerns about how well other students have been practicing social distancing, wearing a mask in public and following other Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines are of importance and worthy consideration.
In Wilmington, there have been several instances of high school and college–aged students not wearing a mask or abiding by social distancing. All of which is very concerning granted the number of students who will be returning to UNCW’s campus in the fall, from all over the country, and who knows what they have all been up to and how their states handled COVID-19.
Chancellor Sartarelli’s message noted that in the coming weeks the university would share “specifics regarding your return to campus (first by employees, and eventually students)” under the safety, health and other measures heading. But really those health and safety plans should be shared with staff and students before a decision is made, so they at least have the time to review them and express any concerns.
Both Corey and his wife Sadie Dearing attend UNCW and were disappointed with the university’s decision.
In an email sent to The Seahawk and the fall 2020 planning team, the Dearing’s expressed their concerns.
“At first, we were struck with disbelief at the lack of a plan, there was no mention of what to expect should the university be struck with an outbreak; which is disheartening after seeing the extent that some of our fellow UNC Schools have gone to in planning for the fall semester. We figured that this must surely be a mistake…”
They also noted how neither received emails from the university asking for student, faculty or staff’s input on this decision.
“However, after reviewing countless news sources, social media outlets, the UNCW website, and going through my emails while wondering what we could have missed, I noticed something peculiar,” wrote Corey. “My wife & I have received every email update from the university which parallels the updates at UNCW’s Coronavirus website except the emails from May 15 and the 21 in which the university was looking for input from students, faculty, staff, and the community which makes the functioning of our university possible to begin with.”
Those two updates were only sent to faculty and staff, as they are addressed “Dear Faculty & Staff:” unlike the emails students receive which include “Dear Campus Community:”
It is curious as to why students did not also receive these emails as their voices and input should also be factored into major decisions like these—especially since the student body outnumbers faculty and staff.
The Dearing’s curated a list of questions to ask the fall 2020 committee about concerns that have not been resolved in media outlets about UNCW’s decision. The list of questions includes uncertainties about election day, testing for COVID-19 for students, sanitization and hurricane season.
They also bring up students who may be housed off-campus and how to mitigate social distancing problems that are outside of UNCW’s control:
“Everything put forth so far by the administration addresses students who live in the dorms almost exclusively, but what of those of us who live in the community? We are concerned about the culture of complacency being created around this virus, especially shocked to see things like “Covid Free Beach” signs at Wrightsville Beach where a large portion of students obviously live and congregate. How will you address the student body’s responsibility to maintain proper sanitary and safety measures off-campus, so that when they come onto campus they are not compromising those of us who are taking absolutely every precaution possible to stay safe? What does it matter if I haven’t been anywhere but the grocery store since March 1 if students are congregating at bars and restaurants without themselves following sanitary and safety protocol? We do not trust our more youthful classmates to refrain from congregating and copulating for the safety of the community.”
The Dearing’s also included a follow-up email of some of the concerns that had been answered. The questions that the university did not answer were the main protocols that will be put in place to create social distancing in small spaces and how they will hold elections. They ended the second email with the question of “How can we help?” which they followed with:
“We think any return to campus for fall 2020 is a risk our community can’t afford. However, our education is something we cherish and look forward to at UNCW. We want to be supportive and helpful in this process, but we do expect extremely high standards from you at this time as there is no treatment for this virus and there is no calculable loss worth gambling just because we all want to be ‘back to normal.’ We want that so much, too. But we also want to stay safe and keep our community safe.”
They are most concerned with how the university plans to move forward when it seems so dangerous for many to return. Helping the community heal and how the university will ensure that is their main interest.
Until UNCW sends out a comprehensive plan to students and staff, many, ourselves included, probably will not feel comfortable returning in the fall. And even then, COVID-19 will still be around, and you cannot guarantee that all UNCW students, faculty and staff will each abide by these plans and guidelines to the t.
Honestly, UNCW should have considered remaining online for at least the fall semester and then start thinking about making a return to campus in the spring of 2021, when a vaccine for COVID-19 is more likely to be available.
The fall 2020 planning committee can be reached at [email protected].