In response to the University System of Georgia’s COVID-19 updates, the University of Georgia Student Government Association has been actively working to represent the student body’s voice in the decisions being made on the administrative level and beyond. With COVID-19 cases rising across the nation, it is important to recognize that lower income residential areas and minority groups are being impacted heavily. Many of us who belong to the UGA community are concerned about the impact of our return to campus, especially on the health and wellbeing of those around us. During this pandemic the hospital systems in the Athens-Clarke County area are already nearing capacity and working hard to serve the residents of 16 nearby counties.
As we have seen since January, insufficient preparation and delayed responses will have a tumultuous effect on our faculty, staff, student body and the residents of ACC. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released guidelines that outline recommendations and precautions that universities and colleges should follow in order to decrease risk on campuses. However, these considerations will not be enough to truly protect the wellbeing of all stakeholders. As a student body, we should expect transparency and the prioritization of the wellbeing and safety of students, staff and faculty when it comes to decisions being made by our university administrators.
On May 22, the university released a 225 paged-report named Plans for a Phased Return to Full Operations that detailed how the transition to on-campus instruction would happen in the fall. Due to the strict timeline and limited accessibility, student input was not included in these decisions. Therefore, SGA created a survey where over 6,000 undergraduate, graduate, professional and doctoral students voiced their concerns and expressed how they felt about UGA’s performance. From our survey it is clear what respondents are expecting from the administration.
These are the following expectations the student body has for the UGA’s administration to be inclusive of the safety and wellbeing of all stakeholders. Among the expectations that we have listed below, we have also provided solutions and opportunities for the issues stated.
Students are seeking increased transparency and communication regarding updates on academic instruction, online learning and the health and safety of students. 78% of students indicated that they wanted more communication from the university. This was listed among the top common free response answers when asked what UGA could do better during this transition.
Students believe that one solution to this is for departments to host town halls to directly answer student and parent concerns and for deans and colleges to provide more timely updates. 16 departments have confirmed to participate in the Senate Summer Town Hall Series taking place weekly from July 8th through August 5th. More information is available here. Students also request more brief and concise Archnews updates, with coordinated graphics and social media posts to be sent along with major university updates.
Students also ask for enforcement and promotion of CDC guidelines in the best interest of faculty, staff and students during the entirety of the pandemic, including but not limited to enforcing mask wearing and social distancing. Additionally, as students adjust to the new guidelines on campus, it is equally important for academic resources to adapt to new instruction formats.
When asked if students plan on complying with current CDC guidelines while on campus, 89% of students said they were planning to do so. 76% of students wanted masks to be required for staff, faculty and students while on campus, and 70% said that social distancing should be a requirement in the fall as well. As the student body adapts to the new campus protocols, resources for online-learning and academic success are also a priority. 82% of students rated the university's transition to online instruction as average of above average; however, one of the most common concerns students raised was about how academic resources would be adapted to fit an online-learning program.
Students seek greater communication regarding how social distancing will be implemented during classes and clarification about structure of attendance in classes, with these changes reflected and updated on Athena. Students also seek the addition and adaption of academic resources for learning, and frequent updates on how campus services will be affected in its operations (i.e. Dining Services, Greek Life, Housing, Transportation, Student Activities and Involvement).
Students request that the administration continue to work on providing accessible COVID-19 testing, treatment and Personal Protective Equipment for the community. COVID-19 testing is crucial for managing outbreaks especially in highly-populated residential areas. Currently there are several testing sites within the ACC area. However, with the large influx of students returning in the fall, it is important that the university and the University Health Center work to provide adequate health care and services for all students, staff and faculty. Overall the requirement of masks and social distancing was featured in a fourth of responses. The concern of student health was in nearly a fifth of responses when asked what students wanted moving forward in the transition.
Students aim to be provided greater information on how their health care coverage will work in the fall, along with greater promotion regarding which health and medical services will be provided to students. Students also request greater advertising regarding accessible testing centers and sites. Students request that administrators enforce the use of personal protective equipment on campus for students, staff and faculty.
We thank the university and its administration for its consideration of the requests enclosed in this open letter. Our mission within SGA is to be the “voice of every bulldog,” and that requires the prioritization of student voices as we return to campus amid a world pandemic.
Any questions or comments can be directed to Matthew McDaniel, Senate Chief of Staff and Madison Drummond, Senate Director of Communications by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.