On the first Monday of the semester I was given the choice between putting myself in what public health professionals called "grave danger" and lying to my professor on the first real day of class. I chose the latter.
There were many factors that led to my decision, which can accurately be summarized by COVID-19 and the obscene lack of leadership and guidance demonstrated at the federal, state and university level. My university. A place that now feels more like home than where I grew up.
On that day, and for many weeks and months now, the University of Georgia has failed me. Today it forced me to compromise my integrity, and potentially my education, for the sake of my health and well-being.
Despite my pleas to my professor weeks before the start of class for an online option, I was rebuffed in favor of a “hybrid” option. The class will be taught in-person in the Miller Learning Center on Mondays and Wednesdays, and over Zoom on Fridays.
The benefits of this model elude me. If the class can be taught on Zoom just as well one day a week, then what, I ask, is the reason for requiring in-person instruction?
Months of consuming information regarding this pandemic has taught me that by the time we start presenting symptoms, it’s too late. Forcing us to further interact with the community more than is absolutely essential could cause catastrophic ripple effects. Above all else, the extent to which we still don’t understand this virus is the most compelling argument for not forcing in-person interactions. We don’t know why it affects some worse than others and we don’t know all of the potential long-term health effects, even in asymptomatic individuals. This is not just the flu.
In my first Zoom class on Friday the 21, my professor stated that if we should start to present with symptoms for COVID-19, we should alert her and stay at home. She said she would be able to stream the class on Zoom for those unable to attend in-person.
Immediately following the class, I reached back out to the professor through email to reassert my concerns about in-person instruction in the most frequented building on campus and asked that if she was able to provide a remote option for students with symptoms, whether she would be willing to do the same for a student simply trying to cooperate with CDC guidelines.
My logical argument was met with a “no” and references to elusive policy.
“I truly understand your concern. However, the lecture on Monday or Wednesday will be streamed, if I receive any reports from [the Disability Resource Center] or Student Care and Outreach. This is because [the class] is assigned as face-to-face course this semester,” the professor said in the email.
I understand the university is in an impossible position. Without in-person instruction hundreds could lose their jobs. I cannot, with any authority, make a plea for only online instruction. However, I take issue with policies that make instructors feel unable to cater to the comfort levels of individual students and that give students little to no actionable recourse.
I have no preexisting conditions, no elevated health risks. I am a healthy 21-year-old. I have no documentation to prove I need extra accommodations, and as the academic year is officially underway, I do not have the "one to four weeks" the DRC website says the registration process can take.
To many, these factors may seem like adequate reasoning to force me to spend an hour and 40 plus minutes per week in the busiest building on campus, filled with students I have witnessed not social distancing, not wearing masks, going to bars and being reckless the past five and a half months.
I assume those who do either work in the university administration, cannot wrap their minds around this once-in-a-century event or are unable to grasp the danger posed by this virus if it has not directly impacted their lives. Nevertheless, I am convinced that my fellow students, faculty, staff and I deserve better.