Students wrestle with “safety, hopes, and fears” of spring return

USF plows ahead with in-person classes

 USF cites several additions to its health and safety protocols as reasons for an in-person return amid a recent COVID-19 surge. PHOTO BY BEAU TATTERSALL/SAN FRANCISCO FOGHORN

Desks were vacated and classrooms sat empty this January, as a large number of universities across the Bay Area temporarily moved to a virtual modality, citing concerns of the omicron variant’s increased contagion. While these campuses laid quiet, the University of San Francisco acted as an outlier, fully reopening this past month despite the prevalence of COVID-19 in Northern California. 

The reason for in-person classes, according to University President Paul Fitzgerald, in a Jan. 24 statement, is threefold: “testing, vaccination, and well-being.”

These new safety measures, including testing and booster vaccination requirements, are coupled with the ongoing mask mandate and Dons Health Check, practiced last semester. All precautions work in tandem to keep the community safe and thus “improve the common good,” Fitzgerald said. 

The final predominant reason the University chose an in-person modality was to support students’ well-being. “Isolation, anxiety, and grief associated with the pandemic can harm students’ physical and mental health,” Fitzgerald said. Holding in-person classes is believed to mitigate some of these burdens. 

Claire Mattingly, a freshman history major, agrees with Fitzgerald on that measure. “I’m happy we’re in person because I dislike online school,” she said. Yet, while she expressed gratitude at being on campus for her mental health, she shared concern for her physical health. 

“Perhaps in the future I will regret coming [to campus] due to health consequences,” she said. “I have not gotten COVID yet and I am worried I may be exposed this semester.” 

In a similar manner to Mattingly, many members of the campus community have expressed worry at becoming ill and confusion around the University’s latest safety protocols, concerns that have led one group of students to advocacy. 

“I’ve noticed that there are a lot of students really confused about what they are supposed to be doing,” Celeste Baird, sophomore international studies major said. “What do students do when they get COVID? How long are they going to be in quarantine? What if your roommate has COVID? What are the procedures? A lot of students don’t know.”

Baird is director of communications for Just the Vax, a student organization founded in March 2021 with a resolve to clear confusion by providing students reliable, factual information on USF’s COVID-19 policies. By sharing information on social media, they have established a community with monthly meetings and over 700 followers on Instagram. Their follower base was built in part by their #DonsWhoVax challenge, in which students post photos getting their COVID-19 vaccinations.

The most recent aim of the organization is to share resources on how students can comply with the University’s safety protocols for being on campus, as they are constantly evolving. 

While Natalie Macias, director of Health Promotion Services, said the University will “continue to monitor public health guidance carefully and engage with medical consultants on a daily basis,” they do not foresee a shutdown of March 2020 proportion. 

With USF’s “track record of implementing testing, mask-wearing, quarantining, contact tracing, and prudent facilities management,” Macias said the University believes they can provide a safe learning environment.

Unlike last fall, remote classes are limited this spring semester. PHOTO BY BEAU TATTERSALL/SAN FRANCISCO FOGHORN

“I definitely feel safe in some environments on campus,” Baird said, describing many of her classes with prudent professors who encourage personal safety above all. Yet, Baird expressed concern in other situations like when a professor wears their mask on their chin or when students are crowded together eating lunch. 

“You can’t be sure that everyone’s taking the Dons Health Check, or even being honest about their symptoms,” she said. 

Mattingly shared similar concerns. Moving back into her dorm room in Toler Hall, there was no community assistant to check for proof of a negative COVID-19 test. Entering her room, a resident advisor (RA) stopped her and took her to the neighboring Gilson Hall to show her negative test result to the community advisor (CA) there, something Mattingly said many of her friends did not do. “The communication about showing a negative COVID test in person before move-in was confusing at best and neglectful at worst,” she said. 

In a statement to the Foghorn, Director of Student Housing, Torry Brouillard-Bruce, attributed Mattingly’s experience to staffing issues, reassuring that “any student who does not have a test on-file will be contacted to get a negative test result.” 

Despite the COVID-19 concerns present, Baird said that there is a “definite excitement” at being back on campus for the spring semester.

Michael Rozendal, rhetoric professor and academic director of the dual degree in teacher preparation program, is the faculty advisor for Just The Vax. He noted that his experience differs from many faculty members, as he is not eldery nor does he come in contact with young children. With the safety measures in place, working with Just the Vax has only increased his appreciation for being back on campus. 

“What I love is that I am learning from the students,” he said. “Seeing their advocacy makes me feel like it’s not just top-down; we aren’t just imposing an image of how things should be.” 

Many students have begun to think critically on how USF’s COVID-19 policy could be improved. Some, like Baird, believe that USF’s COVID-19 prevention is adequate, but not conveniently shared with students. “The University should be communicating more with the student body to share the procedures and policies,” she said. 

Free daily COVID-19 testing is now offered on the University Center 5th floor. PHOTO BY BEAU TATTERSALL/SAN FRANCISCO FOGHORN

Others, like Mattingly, think that the University needs to increase their policies. “The University’s COVID policy would be stronger with mandated weekly testing on campus,” she said. 

While thinking on the solution in different manners, Baird and Mattingly both agree with the core of what Rozendal expressed: COVID-19 has many finding the intersection between activism, University policy, and autonomy in personal health. 

“Students are advocating for themselves,” he said. “They are making sure that their concerns, safety, hopes, and fears are being addressed.”

Students can find the latest campus COVID-19 information and policies on USF Together, at Health Promotion Services, and by visiting Just the Vax on Instagram or at the Involvement Fair on 2/8.  

Megan Robertson, a sophomore media studies and performing arts & social justice double major, is one of the Foghorn’s general assignment reporters. She can be reached at mrrobertson2@dons.usfca.edu.

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