According to an email sent from the President’s office on March 31, Fairfield University will be preparing to return to fully in-person classes by next fall. For many students, this news may come as a relief. After months of remote learning, compounded by the stress and difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic, the return to in-person classes can be seen as some semblance of normalcy. However, for others, in-person classes may introduce an added anxiety due to the increased potential for exposure to the virus.
I am taking into consideration both of these perspectives in developing my own view of in-person classes. As a personal anecdote, I have struggled with adapting to learning in remote settings. This has contributed to higher stress levels and difficulties understanding, remembering and applying my course materials. From observation, class participation has also decreased as a result of not being physically present in the classroom.
Despite my personal challenges, the novel coronavirus still remains a lethal and pervasive threat. Will the introduction of in-person classes increase the frequency of potential exposure? I say surely! But, should this prevent the University from returning to traditional classes if positive cases are controlled? I think not.
We will have to see what positive case numbers, vaccination statistics, and public opinion are like come next fall. However, it is necessary that an open dialogue regarding the transition back to in-person classes begins now.
For those students and professors who are still uncomfortable with the idea of in-person classes, a “no-questions-asked” policy ought to be adopted. There should be no judgment by the University on the individual student or faculty member’s decision to remain in a remote learning setting.
Moreover, it is necessary that the University makes the transition to in-person classes as seamless as possible. There must be a recognition of the toll that months of remote learning have had on both students and faculty. Part of the recognition means that the University continues to promote the pass/fail option for its students and takes additional measures to make course work more manageable in the beginning weeks of the semester. This may mean that professors lessen the ideal amount of work that would normally be assigned, and/or professors make themselves more available outside of class times.
For students, it is important that we remain diligent and committed to academic excellence in times of adversity. I buy into the idea that a unified student/faculty approach will make it easier for everyone to adjust once again.
I interviewed fellow student Owen Kelly ‘22 on his thoughts about the potential transition to in-person classes. He stated, “I want to return to in-person classes, but not if it means compromising my own, or anyone else’s health. As a Fairfield community, if we cannot collectively keep people safe, then in-person classes should not continue until this safety can be ensured.”
I also asked Kelly what would help him in his transition back to in-person classes. He remarked, “It has been a long time since I have been in an actual classroom. I imagine I will need some time to adjust and get reacquainted with the in-person setting. I think that frequent communication between myself and my professors will help, as well as overall flexibility.”
Kelly echoes a lot of my views on the potential transition. That is, the safety of Fairfield students and faculty is imperative, and that accommodating measures must be taken to aid students and faculty in the transition.
If Fairfield is to shift to in-person classes in the Fall, then we must do it together. The faculty must remain open to the needs of the student, and the student must remain open to the needs of the faculty. Only by including everyone in this discussion, will the transition flow smoothly. Yet, the transition to in-person classes should not occur if the virus is not well enough contained come fall 2021.