FAU administrators have called for a transition to a full, in-person fall, after four semesters of online teaching, but some owls are saying it’s too soon to return to the nest.
The announcement was delivered via email on Thursday, promising a return to a traditional semester that would “not only bring us together, but also reinvigorate our vibrant campus life” in the fall. The university is encouraging all owls to get vaccinated, but will still adhere to the safety triad of physical distancing, mask wearing, and surface sanitization.
Rafaela St. Juste, a junior in the Hospitality and Tourism Management program, says the transition is “unrealistic,” and expressed worry for students who have been displaced by the pandemic and are still battling housing insecurity.
“People’s living situations have not switched up yet,” said St. Juste, “I feel for those people so much.”
After struggling to find their footing in hybrid and online classes, Freshman Business majors Gio Batista and Shailynn Rapp were both excited to read about the proposed return to normal operations.
“I’m not afraid to come back in person and share a space with other people,” said Batista, “If I get sick, honestly I just get sick.”
Batista says she was expecting a much different experience for her first year of college, and has found it difficult to meet new people and make friends from behind a mask. Rapp echoed her sentiments, and added that many of their classmates are ignoring CDC guidelines outside the classroom anyway.
“If you’re able to go party and go to clubs, go drinking, you can go to school,” said Rapp.
When asked about their peers who object to coming back, Batista said she understands the concern. “If you don’t want to come, don’t come. Obviously there are people coming that are gonna be scared,” said Batista, “It sounds selfish, but it is what it is.”
It’s not completely clear whether the option for hybrid learning fits within FAU’s plan for a “full on-campus, in-person instruction and campus experience” this fall, but the announcement states that all FAU employees are required to return to their pre-COVID-19 work arrangements, and that remote work arrangements expire on July 12.
On Fridays, Associate History Professor Dr. Eric Hanne drives to campus to teach a class of 30 students, only five of whom attend his class in-person. He says he supports a safe return to campus, and misses being able to engage with students face-to-face, but fears that some students will “choose the path of least resistance” if a hybrid option is offered.
“We see this in enrollments,” said Hanne, who also directs undergraduate studies for the History department. “the classes that fill up first are the ones that are online and hybrid, but the in-person ones don’t fill up as much.”
Hanne also noted that the decision to not to require vaccines may have more to do with the state than the school.
“The administration is doing its best to work within the parameters the legislation has given us,” said Hanne, referencing Gov. Ron DeSantis’ statewide ban on businesses and agencies requiring vaccine documentation for patrons and customers.
Custodian Yolene Joseph says she hasn’t seen so few students filtering through the Boca Student Union since she started working for the university in 1995. The custodial staff has increased their measures to keep the entire campus safe from floor to ceiling. Joseph’s only fear is that some students won’t do their part in protecting their fellow owls by cleaning after themselves.
“Still, I’d be happy to have them back,” said Joseph, “I miss them.”
Dr. Daniela Scheurle admits that as coordinator for Boca Raton campus Microbiology and Biotechnology laboratory courses, she was in a lucky position this semester; her labs were spacious enough to offer hybrid learning for students who still wanted time in the lab.
“They wanted to come back, but they also were aware that since they were fortunate enough to come back, we want to be safe and we want our peers to be safe,” said Scheurle, “We believe in science, and we know that the virus is airborne.”
Scheurle described her reaction to the university’s announcement as “very mixed,” adding that while public health comes first, she understands why students who are less concerned with the virus may be more eager to return.
“When you see somebody smile, it’s something wonderful. Suddenly we don’t have that anymore,” said Scheurle, who described how she’s adapted her senior send-offs this semester. “I would usually give a hug, but right now isn’t the time.”
Paradigm granted an Associate Professor anonymity so they could speak freely without fear of retribution. They believe the university’s response should be consistent with science.
“In the interest of public health, if FAU wants to return fully in-person in the fall, all faculty, students, staff, and administrators should be vaccinated,” said the faculty member, “We should set an example for the rest of society by basing our decisions on evidence and reason.”
Neuroscience and Behavior major Naheelah Wallace says she wasn’t surprised at the university’s decision, describing it as “limiting, unfair, and unwise.” She says she’s worried that admins won’t allow exceptions for immunocompromised workers, who have a higher risk of dying from COVID-19.
“It’s taking away our freedom of choice to decide the best thing to do for our health,” said Wallace, “A lot of students don’t even care to wear their mask properly or use sanitizer.”
Freshman Theatre major Elle White has spent her first year of college in online and hybrid classes, performing for virtual audiences when she can. She says she doesn’t think the administration’s decision is completely safe, but to her, the answer is somewhere next to normal.
“Just do what we’re doing right now,” said White. “It doesn’t have to be completely remote, but give us the option to still be on Zoom.”