USF’s fall ‘21 COVID-19 plan is not compreshensive enough

Caitlin Ryan is a sophomore English major.

GRAPHIC BY NATALIE MORRIS/GRAPHICS CENTER

 As an incoming junior this fall, it’s baffling to realize some of us have spent the majority of our college careers online. While I tried to make the most of my online education, I am more than ready to return to in-person learning if USF can do so in accordance with state and local mandates. However, I’m concerned about transitioning back to in-person learning because USF isn’t requiring COVID-19 vaccines, especially since all California’s public universities are taking this cautionary measure.   

When USF made its Jan. 13 announcement that we would finally be returning to a mostly in-person fall semester, I was thrilled. What gives me hope is that the University promises to continue to work closely with the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) to ensure on-campus safety measures are in place. However, even though San Francisco has moved to the yellow tier — the lowest minimal risk tier based on the per capita rate of COVID-19 cases — as of May 4, it’s hard to tell how much COVID-19 will continue to affect our quality of education. 

While I am grateful that USF is taking steps to ensure students have in-person learning opportunities next fall, my schedule consists of classes taught in hybrid, in-person, remote, and HyFlex modalities. The prospect of juggling all of these different types of classes feels overwhelming from a time-management and organizational standpoint. 

According to the USF website, more than 70% percent of fall courses will incorporate some in-person element. In-person modality classes will meet on-campus and in-person, following social distancing guidelines, while the hybrid modality format consists of a mixture of in-person and remote/online learning. Online classes will be offered through synchronous or asynchronous virtual meetings. Another class option will require certain groups of students to be in-person on specific days, and participate remotely (either synchronously or asynchronously) on other days.

Similar to hybrid modality, HyFlex classes will constitute that some students attend class in person while some watch a live recording. To support learning in this environment, the Educational Testing Service (ETS) has been working to upgrade each classroom with two high-resolution cameras — one pointed at the front of the classroom and one at student seating — as well as high fidelity microphones mounted on the ceiling to capture classroom audio. 

Personally, HyFlex modality seems like the best option because it gives students the choice to attend class based on their comfort level surrounding pandemic risks. Additionally, students who wish to avoid in-person contact can choose to take courses with remote instruction, offering synchronous and asynchronous meetings. Unfortunately, USF’s limited class selection makes it difficult to ensure modality preferences, so it’s imperative that our campus’s COVID-19 plan feels safe. Regardless of what modality mix each of us chooses (or is forced to take to fulfill degree requirements), the first few weeks of the semester will definitely be an adjustment period for students and faculty alike. 

Beyond the academic challenges that will come in the fall, USF’s self-monitoring COVID protocol for students is also concerning. Before each campus visit, students will be required to self-monitor and report the presence or absence of COVID-19 symptoms to limit the transmission of the virus on campus. The effectiveness of this system, though, directly relies on the personal accountability of each USF student. We can only hope that all students will honestly and effectively report their day-to-day health. I would hate to see a student miss class because of a cold that could potentially be COVID-19, or conversely, for a student to show up to class with COVID-19 thinking it’s only a cold. 

To add to the inappropriate amount of student accountability that the University is relying on, USF is not requiring students to be vaccinated to return in the fall, though it is recommended. According to the USF website, “The requirement would go into effect when the vaccine has received full approval from the U.S Food and Drug Administration or at the start of the fall semester, whichever is later.” It would give me more peace of mind, for the safety of San Francisco and our USF community, if the University required vaccinations to return for the fall semester.

I feel that our community has the capacity to work together and follow COVID-19 protocols to keep each other safe, but a vaccination requirement is the most effective way to ensure community health. After nearly three semesters online, I am eager to get back to the Hilltop and I am looking forward to learning among my peers again while utilizing study spaces, and developing face-to-face (or mask-to-mask) relationships with my professors. 

For more information, USF’s comprehensive portal, USF Together, details the living, classroom, and general on-campus COVID protocols for Fall 2021. 

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