UGA reopens Graphic

Joy Morin co-created the Facebook group Keep Georgia Universities Open after she read about the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill sending students home due to COVID-19 just one week after instruction began. 

The University of Georgia is offering in-person, completely virtual and hybrid classes for the fall semester. Parents on the Facebook group, who have children at University System of Georgia institutions, are advocating for students to have the option to attend in-person classes and lecture opportunities regardless of whether or not they are offered.

The group’s goals starkly contrast with health concerns over an open campus and limited testing resources.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the lowest risk for institutions of higher education involves having virtual-only learning options, with the risk increasing as more individuals are added to campus.

The Facebook group was initially designed to gauge the interest of other parents who wanted to see campuses across the state remain open and possibly coordinate efforts to contact the officials making that decision, Morin said. The group currently has over 5,000 members

Parents are currently using the group to share stories about student experiences. The group is also reaching out to campus presidents, Gov. Brian Kemp and University System of Georgia officials — they’re in the process of organizing letters to send to the USG Board of Regents’ upcoming Sept. 15 meeting.

“We decided maybe there was something we could do to hopefully help keep these campuses open a little longer,” said Morin, who has a freshman son at UGA.

UGA’s COVID-19 numbers have increased each week since campus has reopened. The university reported 1,417 new COVID-19 cases from Aug. 31-Sept. 4. Since the start of the pandemic, the university has recorded 3,045 cases. 

Stephanie Britt, whose daughter is a senior at UGA, said many parents want their students to have the opportunity to attend in-person classes. As a tuition-paying parent, Britt said students deserve “the option to choose” face-to-face learning.

“How is it fair or right that some people have the option to do what they think is best for them but the other people don’t?” Britt said. 

Over the summer, UGA marketed a revised return to campus. Instagram posts and ArchNews emails explained new procedures for dorm life, dining halls and classes, as well as a mask requirement and the optional DawgCheck survey. 

Online classes and making friends

The Red & Black received about 30 emails from parents who are advocating to keep UGA open.

Morin said she understands that there should be adjustments and procedures on campus to try to curb the spread of the coronavirus, such as face masks and social distancing requirements. But she thinks closing campus and moving completely online would be worse than staying open.

“We’re not advocating throwing caution to the wind, but we just felt it would be far more dangerous for our students' mental health and well-being to send them all home,” Morin said.

Yet Richard Slatcher, a UGA professor in the behavioral and brain sciences program, explained that he doesn’t think the pandemic will have long term mental health effects for young students.

“Sort of taking a ‘this too shall pass’ kind of a perspective, which can be hard to do, will help people to cope,” Slatcher said.

Slatcher is actively researching the effects of COVID-19 on relationships. He suggested that an online synchronous class model is more beneficial to students than a hybrid or even in-person approach. 

“I think students actually get a better class experience when I teach a class fully online and synchronously compared to hybrid,” Slatcher said. “I can actually do some activities where I can break people up into small groups online where they can actually interact with other students in ways that you can't do when you're socially distanced 6 feet away from other people in the classroom.”

Slatcher, who is the parent of two high school students, said it will be difficult for freshmen to acclimate to a new environment while trying to make new friends and stay safe. 

Humans are hardwired to feel a need to belong, Slatcher said, and that need to connect cannot be met solely online. Slatcher said it’s easier for juniors and seniors to maintain their connections because they already have an established group of friends, whereas freshmen are trying to find new friends.

“To form friendships in the era of COVID[-19], it's going to be a lot harder to do,” Slatcher said.  “You still can do it in a socially distanced way, but it's easier to maintain relationships.”

Adjusting to a new reality

Morin said her family talked about the risks with her son before he came to UGA. He did his own research on COVID-19-related risks in order to make an informed decision, she said.

“Even though there’s a lot of restrictions, we still felt that it was really beneficial for [him] to be there,” Morin said.

Britt said she believes each person has to evaluate their own level of comfort. 

“The reward outweighs the risk, for us,” Britt said. “And I think that’s what every person has a decision, each family has to make.”

Like Britt, Morin said it’s important that each person decide what risks are OK for them.

Ultimately, the USG Board of Regents will consult with each of its 26 member institutions to determine if class will be moved to a completely online format. 

The parents said it’s frustrating for their children to have worked hard to get into UGA only for them to not have the traditional “college life.” They said their children — many of whom only have online classes — want to meet with professors and learn in a physical classroom with peers, but they haven’t been given that choice. 

Britt said she’s worried about her daughter’s future because she can’t get experience in the sports broadcast profession that requires face-to-face exposure, practice and live sporting events. 

“Everything they know has been taken from them,” Britt said.

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(8) comments

Kathleen A

'“How is it fair or right that some people have the option to do what they think is best for them but the other people don’t?” Britt said.' By "some" and "other" people, she means *only* her daughter. Most staff and faculty don't have the option. As if her daughter's (and her own) choices have no impact on people around them.

sale1

One likely impact of our collective return is that people in the Athens community will die. Maybe not a lot, but some. Others will have lasting medical issues. Maybe not a lot, but some. These probably won’t be students.

I understand the concern over the mental well-being of students and the desire for a normal semester (which is not going to happen, anyway), but looking at how the semester has evolved thus far and at the actual covid numbers, I really can’t get behind staying in-person. I wish we would have another lock-down.

arilums

I think going to classes could be more damaging to some people's mental health and more distracting. I have found that any day I'm on campus, I have so much more anxiety and cannot focus on my classes. I have had a family member nearly die from this and I don't want to spread it to anyone or catch it myself. I am very introverted and have been able to talk with friends regularly at home without being face to face with them. We live in a world where you don't need to put yourself at risk to socialize. It's less a decision between in person or mental health, and more about how we can protect mental health while staying at home. Having some limited interactions may be beneficial to mental health, but not very risky for physical health. Being in classes and on a campus where 8% of the student body has it, is dangerous in my opinion.

There are loads of people more extroverted than me that might need more social interaction. UGA is forcing students to go to classes. Going to classes should be voluntary. If they actually care about student's mental health, they would set up up mandatory psychologist consultations to evaluate us from time to time over the school year. Their motives are not in the students' best interest but rather their own. Keeping campus open secures more income as they earn a lot from food, dorms, and football. I don't think they really care. If they can use an excuse such as student mental health, I'm sure they will.

susan guynn

Slatcher 'feels' there will be no long term mental effects from Covid and taking a this shall pass perspective will help young people cope. I hope he is right however the research from the CDC and Czeisler et al. suggests otherwise. 1 in 4 young adults are reporting suicidal thoughts related to Covid and social distancing. Symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder increased in the United States during April–June of 2020, compared with the same period in 2019. These are serious and more dangerous to young adults than the risks associated with Covid.

Students should decided if F2F, hybrid or remote is the best learning environment for them not professors or parents. Students should be given the classes they registered for not what a professor arbitrarily determine is best for them after the fact.

OsmoseSound

Right, kids obviously know what is best during a public health crisis...that makes sense.

susan guynn

The vast majority are legal adults and if they can get into UGA they should be able to determine how they learn best.

Tyanaapollo

Lol they cannot. Don't be silly! Nobody can and should be making decisions on this pandemic unless they are public health experts or doctors specializing in infectious diseases. Expert opinion on this disease is changing every day. Now consensus is building around the fact that it is an airborne disease. And by the way masks aren't a 100% guarantee of protection. At current numbers of 1400 confirmed cases, about 1 in every 25 student has COVID after just 3 weeks of school. This things is spreading exponentially. Its a matter of life or death with this disease at the moment. If we can get through this safe and alive, all of us students will have plenty of time to gain all the experience we need. One semester or one year will not make a difference. By the way, most jobs are going virtual too. So, virtual engagement is actually preparing us for the real world right now.

pretty pony

You people are idiots. Your child's mental health is YOUR problem, so maybe you should step up your parenting and help your little darlings develop some coping skills. To say that students should get to decide how they take their classes is absolutely absurd and repulsive. Why should faculty, staff, and people who live and work in this community risk their lives just so your dumb kid gets an awesome on campus experience?

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