When the University of Waterloo announced on May 11 that it would be re-introducing in-person learning for the upcoming fall 2021 term, many students were excited at the thought of possibly returning to campus or visiting it for the first time.
I was particularly ecstatic to hear the good news because I had only spent a little more than six months on campus before restrictions hit.
I was near the end of my 1B ARBUS term when all in-person classes were cancelled. I flew back home to Edmonton immediately, as I had an off term that following spring. I thought those four months at home would be enough for the pandemic to settle over. But then those four months became eight, then twelve, and now it’s been a little over a year since the majority of campus operations shut down due to COVID-19 and I’ve been stuck at home ever since.
The past year has been difficult for all of us as we’ve had to adapt to different practices to ensure the safety of ourselves and everyone around us. Many students are eagerly anticipating the university’s reopening for a number of reasons — some of us want to truly have the college experience, some of us are desperate to move out of our parents’ house and live independently and others just miss having person-to-person social interactions. But arguably one of the most prominent reasons as to why students are looking forward to the university’s reopening in the fall is the return of in-person learning.
I definitely prefer in-person learning over online instruction. Yes, rushing halfway across campus through a snowstorm to get to my next lecture can be a pain and sitting through a three-hour lecture without fast-forwarding can feel more time consuming. But I also dread opening up Learn everyday knowing that I have five new discussion posts due at midnight. I detest group projects even more now because there’s always one person who never answers their messages; I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.
Search up “I hate online school” on Twitter and you’ll get a countless number of tweets from students all over the world ranting about the difficulties of online learning — from internet issues, to difficulties managing time, to the lack of motivation and engagement. Online school just doesn’t compare to physically sitting in a lecture hall and learning alongside hundreds of other students.
Needless to say, learning in a remote environment has brought forth many challenges. But, however eager we may be for fall’s reopening and to get back on campus, many are still wondering if the return of in-person learning in the fall is actually a good idea.
Every day we hear stories from the media restating how serious COVID-19 is, how fast it spreads in communities and how the number of daily cases are still rising. Although there are now vaccines available, many still do not have access to them or don’t want to get vaccinated for various reasons. Additionally, some health experts advise against the reopening of schools for in-person learning because they seem to be a hotspot for outbreaks to emerge.
Despite these risks, I believe UW’s plans to expand in-person learning activities in the upcoming fall term is the right decision to make. However, the university must reopen campus in a way that manages and ensures the safety and health of all students, staff and faculty.
So, how might they do this? I believe all students should receive the vaccine — whether in their home country or in Canada — and have proof of vaccination prior to entering campus in the fall. Those who choose not to take the vaccine and wish to return on campus should only be exempt from the previous statement if they provide proof to the university that they are severely allergic to any of the ingredients in the vaccine and/or they have underlying health conditions that prevent them from being safely vaccinated according to the guidelines from the FDA, CDC or Health Canada.
I understand that at this point UW is hoping not to make the vaccine mandatory, and instead is only encouraging students to get the vaccine. However, implementing a mandatory vaccine policy would not only ease anxiety among students who are afraid of getting COVID, but also encourage more of us to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
When some college campuses in the US reopened last fall, cases spread rapidly within the first few weeks. Since then, vaccines have been developed and members of the public have been strongly encouraged to get vaccinated. But despite this, how can we be certain that those returning to campus will be vaccinated?
Thousands of students will be sitting in the same lecture halls, attending social events, using public transportation, and walking alongside each other when fall comes. We need tighter restrictions to prevent another outbreak or lockdown, which is why I firmly believe that mandating the vaccine to students who are returning in the fall is the safest option.
Furthermore, all individuals returning to campus in the fall should be tested and confirmed to be COVID-free and should be expected to follow all health and safety procedures.
We still have a few more months until the fall term starts. Until then, there is still a chance for reopening plans to change. Do your part — stay at home, get vaccinated, practice safe social distancing, wash your hands with antibacterial soap and hand sanitizer when out and always wear a mask in public settings. Let’s all work together — two meters apart — to stop the spread of COVID-19 and ensure that UW safely reopens this fall.