Access: Student Disability Union call for reevaluation of Emerson’s return to in-person instruction plan

By Adri Pray, Editor-at-large

Emerson’s Access: Student Disability Union proposed a revision to the college’s plan to return to in-person instruction on Jan. 15. The proposal includes a three-week extension of online classes and the adoption of a hybrid model for the remainder of the Spring 2022 semester.

The college’s initial decision came Jan. 11 through an email correspondence from Interim President Bill Gilligan. The email outlined the college’s plan to return to fully in-person instruction on Jan. 18— a decision that came after local and public health officials deemed Emerson could safely proceed without jeopardizing the health of students, faculty and staff.

The email outlined further measures the college would take to rebuild the “Emerson bubble,” including an advisory against “gatherings beyond classroom activity” through Jan. 24 and extending the dining hall’s grab-and-go option through Jan. 24. College officials also expect students to test twice per week until Feb. 7.

“We will evaluate what is in the best interest of our community to promote safety and we may make adjustments to classroom experiences, residential options, student services, and activities, at our discretion,” Gilligan wrote.

In response to this decision, Access launched an email campaign and publicized its thoughts in a document endorsed by the organization.

The organization cited Emerson’s COVID-19 dashboard numbers for the week of Jan. 10, when the college reported 167 positive COVID-19 cases and a positivity rate of 5.33 percent since the commencement of the Spring 2022 semester a week prior. 

“Back when Emerson utilized a hybrid model for classes in Spring 2021, the test positivity rate never exceeded 1.36%,” the document read. “In just the first week of the Spring 2022 semester, Emerson has reported a total of 167 positive tests and a test positivity rate of 5.33%.”

The organization stated that COVID-19 cases are expected to continue to surge when Emerson decided to return to in-person instruction, and that the transmissibility of the “mild” Omicron variant endangers disabled Emerson community members.

“By continuing online classes for three more weeks, we will be taking proactive measures to keep students and faculty safe, prevent the inevitable spike in cases, and quell the need to transition to fully online for the rest of the semester,” the document read.

Access wrote it expected college officials to address the proposal no later than the end of the day Jan. 18, and expected the appropriate measure be put in place according to the organization’s concerns.

“We strongly believe that the hybrid model should always continue to be an option for students, regardless of the state of the pandemic,” the organization wrote. “The College should utilize the accessibility that has been implemented over the past two years during the pandemic, and then work to normalize it for the future.”

Attached to the LinkTree in the organization’s Instagram bio is the template for the email campaign, which encouraged supporters to personalize the email with their name and anything else they wanted to share with college officials regarding the proposal.

“I recognize that going back to in-person is going to disproportionately impact disabled students, staff and faculty, and I call for actions in congruence with Access’ request to be taken for the safety of the Emerson community,” the email read.

Interim Provost Jan Roberts-Breslin declined an interview with The Beacon, but confirmed an email correspondence between herself and Access, which she did not disclose.

“I look forward to continuing the conversation,” she wrote in an email to The Beacon.

“This shouldn’t take much of your time and it makes a huge impact,” Access wrote on Instagram. “Disabled students are afraid to go to in-person classes next week. Please join us in amplifying disabled voices. We deserve to be heard.”

Shruti Rajkumar, president of Access: Student Disability Union, declined an interview with The Beacon.

Maeve Lawler contributed to reporting.