Georgia college students have mixed emotions about returning to classrooms

200803-Lawrenceville-Masks are required and visitors are prohibited in the residence halls at Georgia Gwinnett College. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
200803-Lawrenceville-Masks are required and visitors are prohibited in the residence halls at Georgia Gwinnett College. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Georgia’s public college system is set to begin the academic year at its institutions with in-person instruction. The coronavirus pandemic has upended many of the traditional college experiences. Classes and campuses will look different this year with students and staff wearing masks, class sizes reduced to allow for social distancing, and some classes and activities conducted online in efforts to stave off COVID-19 cases.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked four students their thoughts on how their schools are preparing for the fall semester. Here’s what they said.

Sarah Demsky, 21, Georgia Tech senior

Sarah Demsky is a senior at Georgia Tech.
Sarah Demsky is a senior at Georgia Tech.

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

The University System of Georgia and Georgia Tech have decided to handle coronavirus by redistributing the liability to its students and faculty — “Jackets protect Jackets” is the cheesy phrase. Eighty percent of classes are hybrid (a mix of in-person and online instruction) or residential, which requires students to be present on campus — all while the state of Georgia is seeing a dramatic spike in cases with no government intervention. With little guidance from the school on residential life, clubs, or study spaces, students and professors are left to make the big decisions themselves. That is what concerns me.

I do not believe that the decisions made by USG reflect what is best for students. Georgia Tech has stated three guiding principles for opening campus and nowhere mentioned the health of students. Instead, it reflects what is best for the institution financially. I am not returning to campus because I do not feel that the school will prioritize my health and well-being.

I am very thankful that the Georgia Tech Aerospace department is giving students the option to take any aerospace class completely remote. But many students are being forced into a situation where they are uncomfortable and worried about their physical health, which will only foster an unhealthy and negative learning environment. I know there is no correct answer to the situation, but every student should have a choice in personal health matters.

ExploreGeorgia’s colleges prepare for a vastly different semester

Bryson Henriott, 19, University of Georgia sophomore

Bryson Henriott is a second-year student at the University of Georgia majoring in political science and communications studies. CONTRIBUTED
Bryson Henriott is a second-year student at the University of Georgia majoring in political science and communications studies. CONTRIBUTED

I want to go back to campus, to go back to class, go back to friends, go back to organizations. But at the same time, we have to understand safety is our top priority. I just want the University System of Georgia as a whole to make sure that they’re focused on safety over fiscal policy. I think a lot of students are worried that their schools are more focused on the revenue being brought in compared to their actual safety.

I think they have tried to see this through. Dining halls have already switched primarily to GrubHub orders, to-go orders and reservations at a limited capacity. Our dorms have said no visitors are allowed, giving extra time between classes so that students can walk to class instead of taking the bus.

I think UGA has strategically thought out and planned the precautions they can put in place. We are required to wear face masks inside university buildings and to class. They have reconfigured the dining halls, put limitations on dorm rooms, and put out lots of guidelines to ensure our safety. They have been in the process of increasing communication; however, transparency has to continue throughout the semester. No matter how many precautions the universities put in place, if there is a small group of students who do not abide by them, then it can ruin it for everyone and that is what I am afraid of happening.

Harsha Vinoy, 21, Georgia Gwinnett College senior

Harsha Vinoy talks Monday afternoon, Aug. 3, 2020, about returning to Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville for her senior year during a pandemic. BEN GRAY FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Harsha Vinoy talks Monday afternoon, Aug. 3, 2020, about returning to Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville for her senior year during a pandemic. BEN GRAY FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

It’s been a journey. School closed in March. I’m really excited to go back to classes and go back to that normal routine. Since it’s my last year, I really want to make memories and have that experience of being a senior.

I do feel safer and comfortable because GGC has taken the precautions so that students can safely come back to campus and have that whole experience of getting an education.

I’m involved in student organizations and we usually do a lot of events, so I’m trying to figure out how it will look like for this semester with all of the limitations on how many people you can have at certain events, so it’s just figuring out a way of working around all the safety precautions to have a good event on campus.

I’m taking a senior class capstone and I’d be really nervous if it was completely online because it is a difficult class. I feel like if it was online, it would be more difficult than in person, so I’m glad that one class is a hybrid.

I know it’s confusing for everybody, so I try not to stress about it too much. Just take it one step at a time. I know my professors have my well-being in their best interests. I know I have that trust in them. I trust that they will take care of me, so I’m not scared about being back on campus.

Elisheva Wemberly, 21, Georgia State University senior

Elisheva Wemberly, 21, is a senior at Georgia State University. CONTRIBUTED
Elisheva Wemberly, 21, is a senior at Georgia State University. CONTRIBUTED

Georgia State University released its Back To Fall contingency plan on June 5, which gives an overview of how this upcoming fall semester will operate with a blended learning approach.

Our instructors are requested to post their course syllabi by Aug. 10, and the custodial staff has enhanced cleaning protocols. With these new protocols come new responsibilities.

I am unsure of the unknown. More than 53,000 students attend Georgia State University. Even though the university has made accurate decisions about which classes will be online and which ones require more hands-on learning, it is still too risky. The university’s cleaning and sanitation schedule says main entrances, classrooms, and elevators will be cleaned twice a day.

That is not enough for me.

While these new changes may be sufficient, I cannot help but think if Georgia State is adopting blended learning for its students’ care or due to the funding they have lost. Dorm prices for University Housing have increased since the number of students per room has reduced, and financial aid tuition was due on July 31, which is a week earlier than it was due last fall semester on Aug. 7.

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