As many classes move to in-person formats this week at the University of Southern Mississippi, the Dean of Students is confident the university will mitigate the spread. However, some students have stressed COVID-19 fears in returning to face-to-face sessions.
“I don’t feel safe spending time on campus,” junior English licensure major Laurel Lukes said.
Lukes, who has a pre-existing medical condition that makes her at increased risk for infection, will live at her home on the Gulf Coast this semester.
“It’s frustrating being isolated from everyone I know,” Lukes said. “But it’s more frustrating that many of my friends dismiss my concerns. I see so many people neglect all social distancing and mask guidelines already”
All USM were held classes virtually for the first few weeks of the fall semester, with some exceptions for lab components and other classes. The decision came in late July after a period of heightened daily new COVID-19 cases in Mississippi.
“I understand the intention behind holding online classes,” Sherrice Wright, a junior political science and public relations double major said. “It gave students a ‘mandatory’ quarantine period, and honestly that’s what made a lot of students feel comfortable returning.”
However, Wright isn’t comfortable with going back to face-to-face classes, either, worried about another new spike in cases as a result.
“I […] am very scared to return to in-person classes, especially after a holiday with noted travel like Labor Day,” Wright said.
Wright, though never outright saying so, goes on to imply that students who may visit a COVID-19 hot spot should further quarantine after Labor Day traveling and not return to the classroom.
“I understand both sides of the issue […,] but I do feel as if returning to the classroom is not the safest option,” Wright said. “I feel like it’s going to lead to more students thinking we’re back to normal when we’re just not.”
Lukes agreed with that statement, saying that she thinks there’s a great danger in this attitude among students. Dismissing “the gravity of the situation” could easily lead to more infections.
However, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Sirena Cantrell is confident students can now safely learn in-person this semester.
“Our campus leadership has worked countless hours to ensure the courses will be offered safely and adhere to the USM Community Standards,” she said.
The Community Standards aim to mitigate COVID-19 spread on campus by requiring all to wear masks, keep social distance (in class, around campus and in residence halls), wash their hands and perform daily COVID-19 symptom screenings. The standards also cover how in-person classes will be handled through the USM Flight Path: Fall 2020 Action Plan. The plan explained that courses that are too difficult to translate virtually were prioritized for in-person instruction. Other courses must be taught as a hybrid or fully-online course to abide by proper social distancing. Additionally, classroom capacity will not exceed 50 students this semester.
Cantrell also made sure to add that students who do not follow the USM Community Standards will be disciplined according to the university’s Student Code of Conduct.
But not all of junior psychology major Landry Smith’s classes will be in person, and he is torn over how to feel about those that are.
“I wish some of my classes, like molecular biology, ethics or Spanish, were in person just for the sake of how difficult it is for me to learn it […] online, but I also know there’s a risk when attending in-person classes,” Smith said.
All USM students, faculty and staff had to complete an online COVID-19 training with information on public health and safety protocols within the first two weeks of classes. Just how effective this training was or will be remains uncertain.