This article was submitted to Spire Magazine by Hannah Fulk (she/her). For more information on submitting to Spire, visit our contribute page.
Every Tuesday I attend a hybrid course on campus. On my walk to class, I see some students wearing their masks religiously and others not even carrying one as they walk and chat with their friends. My favorite part of my walk is when I pass the Wescott fountain and daydream about the days before COVID, when the fountain always had someone playing in it, taking pictures around it, or studying near it.
Once I arrive at Dodd Auditorium, I make sure my mask is secured under my glasses so my vision isn’t blurred with fog and grab a couple alcohol wipes from the entrance of the lecture hall. I have my pick of the chairs with purple tape on the back that say “Sit Here” in big letters spread throughout the room. Once I wipe down my seat, arm rests, and desk I can finally sit down and get ready for class. As students slowly trickle in, my hope is that there will be enough students in person to have good class conversation, but so far there haven’t been more than 3 or 4 students attending in-person at one time.
The teacher starts class by struggling to set up Zoom on both her phone and the lecture hall desktop while pulling up her own powerpoints and lecture notes. After her powerpoint shows up on the large projector screen, she checks on the students in the “Zoom world,” as she calls it, to make sure they can hear her. There is only a 50/50 chance they can hear us because of all the technology the professor is trying to manage. Viewing class videos includes lots of echoing and figuring out if the students in the live classroom and Zoom classroom can hear. It usually takes about 5 minutes of class time to sort out tech difficulties.
We struggle most with class discussion. Occasionally, the students in Zoom talk to each other while the students in-person do the same. Other times, the students in-person log into the same Zoom room as the virtual students to discuss class content across tech spaces. When we come back together after discussion, the professor usually neglects the students in Zoom because we get caught up in in-person conversation. I try to fill in the students in Zoom on what we talked about afterwards, but usually the people in the classroom end up speaking for the people in Zoom. When class is over, I love that I can tell the professor to “have a good one” just like the prehistoric, pre-Zoom classroom days.
President Thrasher made an announcement on February 25, 2021 that claimed “We look forward to more students on campus this summer, and we will have a robust offering of in-person classes as well as hybrid, flex, and online classes.” He also claimed “This fall, we anticipate classes that were designed for in-person delivery will resume the face-to-face format, and we expect faculty and staff to return to campus.”
I have included my personal experience with this hybrid course because of the barriers it showcases when we consider shifting to more in-person and hybrid courses.
Some people will be left behind.
One of the professors I talked to about this issue claimed that if everyone is vaccinated by Fall 2021, he would be comfortable going back to in-person classes completely. Another professor claimed that Florida State’s announcement of more in-person classes was simply a PR move to assure FSU donors and parents that students will have the traditional college experience once again.
Does going back to normal mean no social distancing and no masks because we all trust the vaccine? Does it mean disregarding those who don’t have the means or resources to get the vaccine? Does it mean disregarding the students whose pre-existing health conditions could kill them if they came in contact with even one person who is carrying COVID? What about the students who lost jobs because of the pandemic and have to live with their parents to afford school? How can we feel comfortable as a university to rush into the re-opening process when national rates of COVID are still rising as mask mandates are dropping and college students are beer-ponging and getting each other sick?
The Coronavirus pandemic has already showcased the inequalities in American society regarding healthcare, education and employment access. As you have learned from my hybrid course experience, it is hard for both in-person students and virtual students to have equal opportunity for participation and learning in the hybrid classroom.
If the only people allowed on campus next fall are the ones who can afford and access the vaccine, and the ones who are physically able to get the vaccine and survive it, what sort of campus will we create?