The University recently announced its intentions for a default in-person semester this fall. There are many factors to consider. For one, COVID-19 cases continue to be a prominent threat on Grounds. The active cases from January and early February eclipsed those from the Fall semester. Simply put, the University has not found a reliable method to keep COVID-19 cases under control. Meanwhile throughout the country, there are still millions of vaccines to be distributed and new variants of coronavirus to study. The University should not default to a fully in-person Fall semester.
Looking to the future, most people have remained optimistic by referencing the recently released vaccines — but there are many troubling aspects to this solution. For one, while President Biden hopes that the vaccine will be distributed to every American by the end of the year, his estimate relies on the assumption that everyone is willing to be vaccinated. There is a growing problem with public hesitancy towards the vaccine — especially considering America’s racist medical history. Additionally, America has numerous anti-vaxxers. The University should not be devoting concrete resources right now for an in-person Fall semester without knowing how the general American public will accept the vaccine. Rather the University should assume hybrid courses as the default and focus on providing resources to that structure.
Developments of new coronavirus variants are concerning as well. Two new COVID-19 variants are present in Virginia. The U.K. variant of the coronavirus was even identified on Grounds this semester. The Centers for Disease Control reports that the U.K. variant spreads more easily and quickly than other variants and may be associated with an increased risk of death. Furthermore, the CDC is unclear on how the new variants will affect existing vaccines and tests. So, even if vaccines are distributed universally and routine testing continues, it is impossible to know what variables will influence these measures.
With this all being said, planning a fully in-person semester this Fall is irresponsible. The current in-person plan inappropriately prioritizes and encourages in-person attendance. Conceptualizing in-person instruction as the default method disadvantages students for whom this is not possible — international students and students with health concerns in particular. I worry that although the University stated that they will grant exceptions for extenuating circumstances, claiming that in-person is the default will lead to insufficient attention and resources to those students who cannot attend in person. Additionally, while the nature of the coronavirus makes it impossible to ever make a fully informed decision, the University has a responsibility to make as informed a decision as possible. Already committing to an in-person fall semester is far too early.
Instead the University should take this opportunity to encourage a mixed learning environment. Professors report that while difficult, online classes have allowed for students to continue learning. Furthermore, online classes have certain advantages. For instance, asynchronous courses allow students a more flexible schedule so that they can work around more set commitments — like a job for instance. And Zoom courses can have much larger attendance than ever would have been traditionally possible. The University should consider the benefits of hybrid courses.
There are a myriad of circumstances that will affect whether or not the Fall semester is fully in-person. At this point, the University does not have enough information to plan for a fully in-person fall semester. Attempts to do so are overly optimistic and ignore the many variables that have potential to evolve this summer. Additionally, accepting a default in-person structure is sure to result in less University attention towards effective hybrid options — thus disadvantaging students who do not have the privilege to attend in-person classes. Instead the University should consider taking advantage of the flexibility the pandemic has forced upon us to accept varied learning styles and encourage additional accommodations for students.
Jessica Moore is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.