Community members are raising concerns about U.Va. COVID-19 Policies at Student Council Town Hall – Le Cavalier Quotidien
The student council held a public meeting virtually this Thursday to provide a space for students, faculty, and community members to share feedback and — for some — complaints about the University’s public health guidelines and plans for the spring semester. Over 30 people attended the event and attendees voiced their opinions on a number of issues, ranging from lack of academic facilities to inadequate support from Resident Advisors.
With the emergence of the omicron variant at the end of November, the management of the university forbidden food and beverages at events through February 4, allowed faculty with extenuating health circumstances to request a remote start to their classes and obligatory booster shots for all students, faculty and staff by January 14. The faculty and staff requirement has recently been canceled following an executive order from Governor Glenn Youngkin on January 15. Students and organizations, including the Young Democratic Socialists of America at U.Va. and Latinx policies for movement and action in society – have already expressed concerns on these protocols.
Gabriella Hernandez, President of the Representative Body and a third-year student at the College, welcomed participants and opened the meeting by explaining the recent meetings with the administration and leaders of the Inter-Sorority Council and the Inter-Fraternity Council urging Greek Life to move recruiting events online due to the increase in cases.
Hernandez also said the student council has also asked the administration to return to mandatory prevalence testing and provide more academic accommodations, including note-taking services for isolated and immunocompromised students. The student council was denied by the administration on both counts, stating that for the latter it would be difficult to expand the definition of a disability under the Student Disability Access Center guidelines to include those who are temporarily ill.
Due to the high virality of the omicron variant, appropriate masks and the ability to self-isolate in the event of infection are important to slow-down spread of the virus. Student council representatives confirmed that these parameters would be adhered to, stating that staff members will be provided with high-quality masks such as KN95s and that hundreds of isolation beds remain available.
“We have also advocated for additional masks for Resident Advisors, who have only received one KN95 each, and we hope to be able to obtain additional masks,” Hernandez said. “Regarding quarantine accommodation, we have confirmed that the University has hundreds of isolation beds. However, this offer is apparently not being expanded with particular ease, which is why the University has asked students to self-isolate at home if possible.
Sarandon Elliot, director of the U.Va. Mutual Aid and fourth-year college student, highlighted the organization’s success in raising $1,300 in funding for distribute 1,450 KN95 masks to students and workers, as well as continued support for access to textbooks for low-income and first-generation students. Entraide continues to raise funds for the creation of a free store and without commitment subsidies.
“In U.Va. Mutual Aid, our belief is that we work in solidarity, not charity, and that’s what we base our work on, and that’s why we try to provide radical community care here at the University for a more equitable university,” said Elliot.
After the presentation, fourth-year education student Ariana Gueranmayeh was the first to speak, expressing her disappointment at the lack of prevalence testing. Although the tests are available through appointment in the basement of Newcomb Hall and in the employee health building, Gueranmayeh expressed a desire for the University to test outdoors to prevent further spread of the virus. Others have Express dissatisfaction with the University’s lack of weekend testing, which is difficult for students without a car or reliable transportation to get there.
“I feel disappointed with U.Va., this semester in particular,” Guernanmayeh said. “I saw what U.Va. is able to do last spring with mandatory tests and see how easy and accessible it was for everyone to integrate it between courses.
Sociology professor Rose Bucklew said she started her classes online through the provost’s option for distance learning for professors with health issues. However, Bucklew remains concerned about returning to in-person teaching with an unvaccinated child at home, noting that despite calls from some students for hybrid classroom options, most faculty lack the institutional support and training. to provide high quality blended learning.
Bucklew said there should be better communication and understanding between students and faculty, as cooperation between the two would help prevent administrative rollover. With a united front, Bucklew said, students and faculty could better ensure that the administration makes decisions that put health and safety first.
“When students are pitted against faculty, administration wins,” Bucklew said.
Instead of online options, Bucklew suggested alternative note-taking methods so professors can give extra credit to students who post notes for sick or immunocompromised classmates.
Assistant Professor of Sociology Ian Mullen then spoke about the lack of supervision of faculty members. While Magill sent an email to the university community on January 19 providing a to guide for instructors on welcoming students who cannot attend classes, Mullen said the instructions were less clear than last year.
Mullen added that professors were encouraged to welcome students, but were not given specific, consistent course guidelines. Due to this lack of open communication, faculty members varied widely in their approaches, with some of his colleagues always strictly requiring attendance.
“I think there needs to be a way for students and faculty to have more direct communication so that we can come up with more workable solutions, so that faculty can effectively run a course in a way that meets the educational goals and protects student welfare. ” says Müllen.
Mihret Niguse, a fourth-year student at the College, closed the public comment section by talking about the effects of the University’s food ban at student organization events. As the president of a cultural organization, Niguse said the ban interferes with the group’s plans for a winter fundraising event.
“Food may seem simple, but when you’re a cultural organization, food is at the core of who we are,” Niguse said. “It has been difficult to figure out how to come together and be able to share our cultural events within this guideline.”
Niguse said while she understands the University’s reasoning, she hopes for policy change. The ban on eating at group events is set to expire Feb. 4, and the University continues to reevaluate other COVID-19 protocols.
Hernandez ended the meeting by thanking attendees for their thoughts and inviting attendees to stay afterwards to share their final concerns with the board.
The Student Council holds weekly meetings every Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. on Zoom, accessible via its website.