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A student occupies a study room inside UGA’s Main Library on the first day of class, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2020 in Athens, Georgia. The University of Georgia welcomes back students to campus for the first day of the spring semester with COVID-19 preventive measures in place. (Photo/Jessica Gratigny; @jgratphoto)

As a student with at-risk family members, I worry about attending in-person classes. I have a sister with asthma and a physician father who has his own responsibility to protect himself and his patients against the virus. Many other students suffer from similar family situations. This is why I find it unfathomable that the administration has not offered alternative options to those who do not feel comfortable attending classes in-person.

When I created my class schedules for both the fall and spring semesters, I was shocked at the absence of remote alternatives. I took matters into my own hands and contacted professors individually. As I explained my family situation, I inquired as to whether they would be willing to offer remote versions of their courses. The majority of professors and department heads insisted on in-person attendance, citing their obligation to push for a hybrid classroom model.

Not only did the lack of uniformity frustrate me, but I began to feel as if the University of Georgia was not placing my safety and that of other students first.

In a time defined by loss and a semester engulfed in the challenges of remote learning and extreme financial difficulties, college students’ lives look more different than ever. 2020 is over, but the pandemic still ravages the nation. People are still dying. Businesses are still closing. Students are still struggling academically. As we turn the page and start a new year, we still face the challenge of navigating this crisis.

Despite the ongoing uncertainty of living through a pandemic, the UGA community has lacked the leadership necessary to battle these adverse circumstances. As we trudge through another semester with coronavirus still looming, the UGA administration continues to waver in its responsibilities by failing to establish campus-wide virtual class options.

University administrations are responsible for placing the safety of their students at the forefront, and the UGA administration has failed to do so.

Since the very beginning of shutdowns, the University System of Georgia and the UGA administration have been hesitant, unclear and indecisive regarding coronavirus safety procedures.

Looking back to March 2020, the USG initially announced that all 26 of its institutions would remain open for face-to-face education with no universal mask mandate, resulting in UGA’s plan to resume normal class operations. After fierce opposition, they quickly reversed this decision, allowing faculty, staff and students two weeks to shift to virtual instruction.

As students returned to campus last fall, the UGA administration’s weak, indefinite guidelines regarding campus-wide procedures and hybrid learning stirred criticism and controversy within the UGA community. In only days following the start of classes, UGA saw its highest spike of COVID-19 cases, and the positivity rate continued to increase. This absence of definitive plans led to an undoubtedly unsuccessful fall semester.

Nearly 11 months later, as we enter the spring 2021 semester, students still have little to no say in attendance preferences. While some professors offer a remote option, the university is encouraging in-person instruction. The rate of positive COVID-19 cases at UGA is still too high for students’ comfort. From the lack of uniform mandates to departmental inconsistencies, this continued disorganized leadership places students under unnecessary stress.

Georgia Hagy, a fourth year communication studies major at UGA, mentions the ongoing issue of infecting others.

“There should be a virtual option because for some students, COVID can be very deadly,” Hagy said. “If students catch COVID from in-person class and they have roommates with health concerns, they are put in danger as well.”

According to Hagy, as students wish to return home for school breaks, they find themselves “unable to visit their families because they can’t self quarantine.”

A simple solution to these pressing concerns would be allowing students to choose a virtual option for any course based on their individual needs. Other Georgia universities, such as Spelman College, Hampton University and Emory University, have decided either to continue with a fully remote model or offer virtual versions of all their courses.

Why isn’t UGA willing to do the same?

With many professors forcing students to attend class in person, moral questions arise: Is it ethical for the UGA administration to mandate in-person attendance with a pandemic still rapidly spreading across our country? What moral justification exists behind forcing students to step foot on a large university campus?

Everyone has their own hardships. Every student is dealing with personal, familial or economic issues that may affect their ability to attend in-person classes. It shouldn’t be difficult to allow each individual student to choose the class option that is best for his or her personal situation.

In a time defined by a deadly pandemic, choice equals power.

Give students the freedom to choose what is best for them. Do not attempt to decide what is best for us on our behalf. Take responsibility and make the right decision, one that will spearhead UGA’s victory over this unprecedented pandemic.