Returning to in-person classes

UWT will be returning to majority in-person learning on Jan. 31. But is it safe to do so?

Coauthored by Madeline Hiller (Editor-in-Chief), Madi Williams (Managing Editor) and Remi Frederick (Opinion Editor)

On Jan. 24, President Ana Mari Cauce and Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Mark Richards sent out a blast email to students across all three University of Washington campuses in Seattle, Tacoma and Bothell. 

The email subject line said “The UW is returning to largely in-person classes Jan. 31” The rest of the email went into detail about what we are to expect for the rest of the quarter. 

“We look forward to welcoming more of you back to our campuses and into our classrooms and labs,” said the email from Cauce and Richards. 

According to the email, there is no evidence that there was any in-classroom transmission of the virus during the first three weeks of winter quarter. Could that be because there was absolutely nobody on campus for much of the time? 

After all, only about 20% of the classes showed up on campus at any given time. Do they think that the same can be said when the campus gets re-flooded with students come Jan. 31? 

This seems to be a pattern that we have been going through for a while now. We attempt to go back in person, everyone’s anxieties rise at the same time the cases do and then we get sent back online. The back and forth is awful for our mental health and our grades. 

Kelsie Heinz, an Environmental Sustainability major and a fellow classmate shared her opinion on the deal when asked how she felt about the email. 

“I got COVID at the beginning of the quarter so I was happy I didn’t have to miss class for a month while being sick,” she said, “Since I still work in the public and now I have to go to school in person again, I’m nervous that I may get COVID again.” 

There is absolutely no getting used to anything this quarter. The last three quarters, Spring 2021, Fall 2021 and Winter 2022, have all had different formats from fully online to fully in-person. We don’t know about everyone else, but our grades definitely reflect it. 

Some have only been on campus for one quarter in the last two years. Even so, we are not ready  

to go back to in-person classes.

On Jan. 25, there was a town hall meeting regarding the decision of moving back in-person. 

There was a panel discussion in William Philip Hall which had people from various departments including Chancellor Sheila Edwards Lange, Interim Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Dr. Ali Modarres, Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Vann Smiley and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Mentha Hynes-Wilson. 

During this YouTube livestream, those individuals answered questions that were sent in ahead of time regarding the community concern of the current situation. 

Questions were all along the lines of “How can we guarantee the safety of our students?” Some were asking specific questions like “Are teachers being given hazard pay?” The answer to that would be no since the teachers are not being forced to teach in-person. 

We cannot express how much we disagree with the choice that Cauce and Richards made for all three campuses.

King County has about 4,500 COVID-19 cases per day, Pierce County has a little over 2,000 cases per day and Snohomish has over 1,000 cases per day all according to The New York Times Coronavirus tracker. 

Besides, Pierce County has the lowest vaccination rate of all three counties with 62% of all residents vaccinated, according to The New York Times coronavirus tracker. Snohomish County comes in second with 68% of all residents vaccinated whereas King County has 72% of all residents vaccinated.  

Numbers of cases, deaths and hospitalizations are all up and are higher than they were in December 2020 according to The New York Times coronavirus tracker.

Is this really safe? How can we be sure when Pierce County has the lowest vaccination rate of the three counties?

According to the UW’s own COVID-19 case tracker, during the week of Jan. 22, UWT students, staff and faculty reported 54 new cases. We don’t even know how many reports have not been filed, some didn’t even know about reporting to UW when they tested positive. 

COVID-19 cases aside, there is a transition from in-person classes to online and vice versa. How are we expected to be able to do this seamlessly with no wiggle room or time to adjust? 

It is hard enough doing online classes but to then switch to in-person classes halfway through the quarter? Insane. 

We need flexibility from the university. Both professors and students are struggling with this sudden change and we aren’t getting the support we need or frankly, deserve. 

We are calling upon the university to do something, anything to ease our stress during this uncertain time.