Students split on college’s COVID protocol’s effectiveness upon return to campus

Bags+of+food+in+the+Dining+Center+waiting+to+be+delivered+to+quarantined+and+isolated+students.

Photo: Madison E. Goldberg

Bags of food in the Dining Center waiting to be delivered to quarantined and isolated students.

By Hannah Nguyen, Deputy Express News Editor

In an effort to rebuild the “Emerson bubble” in the first weeks of the spring semester, the college imposed several restrictions not seen since the first year of the pandemic—and students are divided on its efficacy.

Students returned to campus last week with limited in-person events—including virtual classes and student organization meetings, “grab-and-go” meals from the dining hall, a biweekly testing requirement, and a “stay-in-room” policy—as on-campus cases rose to unprecedented levels. For some, though, the switch to virtual learning for the first week of the semester eased concerns about increased transmission. 

“[Emerson was] the first school out of all my friends’ that announced that we’d be going online, so I was happy about that,” said Ayaana Nayak, a first-year creative writing major. “I really just wish they’d offer a hybrid model for the future because it doesn’t make sense having people miss classes because they’re staying safe.” 

However, the college’s decision to resume in-person classes—without offering a hybrid modality—has drawn concern, especially for students who are uncomfortable or unable to attend class. Sophomore creative writing major Lydia Prendergast, who is immunocompromised, said she felt anxious about Emerson’s decision to resume in-person classes this week.

“I am doing everything I can to keep myself safe but don’t get the same in return from other students who don’t take COVID as seriously,” she said. “Being in-person can cause a lot of anxiety, and I went remote in the spring [of 2021] for that reason.”

[elementor-template id="60935"]

Prendergast added that the college isn’t offering many options for students who feel uneasy about attending in-person classes.

“When I registered for classes for this spring, Omicron had not yet appeared,” she said. “Since then, it has exploded and the options for remote classes are not nearly as fruitful as in-person, so it almost felt like I was wedged into the experience.” 

Since the fall semester, the college has asked teachers to refrain from offering students the option to zoom into class, a policy that has caused some to feel unsafe and aggravated. 

“Within the first week, I find that the professors [are not forgiving with absences], even if it is an excused one,” sophomore visual media arts major Jennifer Chan said. “Most of my professors are stating we can only be absent for two days this semester, while one says we can’t even take an absent day at all.” 

“I understand that being present in class is important, but living through this pandemic and just getting sick in general shouldn’t be something we should be academically punished for,” she added. 

However, others feel as though the college is handling the situation decently—particularly given the precarious balancing act between keeping campus open and keeping students safe. 

“On one hand, you kind of feel bad for those in charge because it’s a lot of responsibility to keep everyone safe and they have to navigate these uncharted waters to do so,” first-year visual and media arts major Izzy Desmarais said. “In that sense, they’re doing the best they can.”

Jules Saggio, a first-year visual media arts major, said she feels the college is handling COVID “incredibly well,” especially with the immediate response to her positive case. She was directed by the college to leave campus immediately and go back to her home in Long Island, NY after receiving a positive COVID test on her first day on campus. 

“I’m a bit concerned because this variant spreads a lot more quickly than previous variants but only concerned less because I am [recovered] from the virus myself,” Saggio said.

Despite this, many students expressed concerns about their mental health, stating that the limited in-person interaction caused by online classes and “stay-in-room” directive could be damaging. 

“I’m not concerned about COVID as much as I am [about] the effect of going online on mental health.” said first-year journalism major Sarah Calvin. “For many students, including myself, being with people is beneficial, and having that link taken away might be detrimental.”

Calvin added that the online format and directive made adjusting to the semester more difficult after the break. 

“Online classes, for me, have taken a little bit of getting used to after our month off,” Calvin said. “It’s definitely harder to stay focused and motivated when class is on a computer screen versus [having] your teacher or classmates in front of you.”

Desmarais echoed Calvin’s sentiment, saying that she felt that the start of the spring semester was a much more isolating experience than the fall. 

“I say I’m much more anxious now than when I first moved in back in August, which is kind of weird since that’s when everything was still new and I didn’t have any friends,” she said. “I get why we all sort of had to quarantine for the past week, but it definitely took a toll on my mental health.”

Desmarais also mentioned how she would prefer to not have her tuition go towards online learning as she prefers learning in-person more.

“I’m also not a big fan of online classes in general, either,” she said. “It’s just not what I paid for, and when you’re paying such a ridiculous amount of money to go to school, it feels like a huge waste of time when you’re just staring at a computer screen in your dorm room.”