As many students have returned to in-person classes this semester, a great number report feeling uneasy attending class within close proximity to each other. JMU needs to do more and better to address that discomfort.
As COVID-19 — specifically, the Delta variant — continues to ravage the nation, its presence can especially be felt on college campuses. Hundreds of schools have imposed indoor mask mandates but have eased up on restrictions regarding events and outdoor activities.
Other illnesses have been spreading rapidly through the community besides COVID-19, but it’s hard to tell if a student has COVID-19 or a common cold since their symptoms overlap. Sick students have often been attending class because they don’t want to miss any material.
Students like this pose a threat to those who are still anxious about the pandemic.
Like many other universities across the country, JMU is taking the necessary precautions to allow students to continue learning in person. Although JMU is following the basic requirements needed to stop the spread of COVID-19 through its implementation of indoor mask wearing, the university should be doing more to make students feel comfortable in a learning environment by implementing hybrid-class alternatives.
As a student at JMU, I’ve been anxious to continue attending classes in person as illnesses — “JMflu” and COVID-19 — ramp up within my community. This worry over the virus hasn’t only caused me to become anxious, but it’s having the same effect on many students across the country.
In South Florida, college students have been dealing with increased levels of anxiety due to growing concerns about the pandemic. According to a Fox4 article, Florida Gulf Coast University has seen an increase in crisis-line calls by 50% since the start of the school year. An increase in cases of anxious students could be due to many feeling like they’re being pushed through the pandemic to return to normal or the fear of getting sick — and that anxiety may hurt students academically.
On top of worrying about getting sick, students now must worry about whether they’ll be able to keep up in class. JMU requires students to stay out of class for two weeks if they catch the virus, and that’s more than enough time to put anyone far behind in their classwork. Many professors and university administration officials advise students who feel any symptoms related to COVID-19 to remain at home, but sometimes there’s no way for them to get recorded lecture materials if they’re absent from class — adding an additional level of anxiety.
Students at the University of Virginia (UVA) worry about missing their class lectures, too. The Cavalier Daily reported that professors are concerned with the number of students showing up with symptomatic side effects of the virus. UVA allows their faculty to post lectures online and not take attendance to account for this concern.
Following in UVA’s footsteps could allow for reduced anxiety among students worrying about the pandemic at JMU.
JMU should fall back on the method it used last year. Previous semesters allowed students to attend a hybrid form of class where they could either attend in person or through a Zoom link if they were uneasy about coming in. This could spark a dramatic decrease in students attending class sick and cause in-person attendees to worry less about the condition of their classmates’ health.
In a study by Inside Higher Ed, where students’ attitudes about pandemic learning were surveyed, the study found that 50% of college-aged students claimed “there are things I like about remote learning that have worked for me and my learning style, but I am anxious to get back to all or more in-person classes.”
The survey also acknowledges that 79% of students want lectures made available online, and 46% want the option of hybrid learning.
Last week, in an email, Tim Miller, vice president for student affairs, explained that the university intends to promote in-person learning with no intention of alternatives. The email makes it clear who the focus is on this academic year: those who only want to stay in person.
“The in-person, on-campus experience is important and we have worked hard to put plans in place that can keep us all here together,” Miller said. “Our hope is that these plans will help us manage any increases in case numbers and concerns about COVID-19.”
One JMU student in an article published by The Breeze stated that “she doesn’t see the point of holding in-person classes under the new mandate.”
As the Delta variant rages across the country, I ask the university to think about its students when planning the rest of the year and ensuring the safety of those on campus.
Allow hybrid options.
Allow us to keep learning, even if we get sick.
Most importantly, allow us to remain safe, physically and mentally.