Open letter raises important questions regarding student safety

By Lexi Meola
Elm Staff Writer

Although it has been almost two years since Washington College moved classes online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, health concerns remain much the same amongst students and faculty.

Many members of the campus community are justifiably concerned about the threat the Omicron variant poses to them, especially because the variant spreads rapidly and is easily contractible. 

“I am immunocompromised. I don’t produce enough white blood cells to fight off most infections, so I tend to get sick easily. So coming back to campus…I feel, even though they are doing their best, that they did not enforce their guidelines properly,” senior Asia Perez said

On Jan. 16, three students, including Perez, wrote an open letter to the administration of WC in response to growing concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Omicron variant in particular.

The students shared the document to get signatures by parents, students, and faculty in support of having a virtual option available for students this semester.

The open letter detailed an option for immunocompromised students or students who are concerned about the spread of COVID-19 to have a virtual alternative in case they felt uncomfortable about going to class during the Omicron surge.

“To mitigate the spread of this virus and to protect the health and wellbeing of the extended WC community, we believe there should be online learning options,” the letter said.

According to the open letter, a virtual option would not impact in-person learning. However, according to Perez, there are still students who feel that this open letter is a threat to their opportunity to learn in person.

WC has not declared an official plan for a campus-wide virtual option.

“It is totally understandable that students, faculty, and staff are very concerned about safety. That has been the number one priority of the school since COVID-19 hit, so I took the petition very seriously,” Interim Provost and Dean Dr. Michael Harvey said.

The open letter did provide a voice to students who were concerned about the threat of Omicron and held the school accountable about COVID-19 safety on campus.

“It challenges us to ensure that any decision we are making is keeping safety at the forefront,” Dr. Harvey said.

Students are open to having a virtual learning option for those concerned about their health during the pandemic.

“I think that it would be helpful for WC to offer the option of virtual learning, especially for students who are immunocompromised or unable to receive the vaccine,” junior Isabel Bendel-Simso said.

However, many students missed in-person learning, especially those who prefer hands-on instruction.

“Most of my classes require in-person learning to be effective so I am glad we are in-person; however, I liked that the open letter gave students who were concerned about COVID-19 a safer option,” junior Amelia Bonsib said.

With the surge of Omicron, I myself was concerned about heading back to in-person classes. One of my classes last semester had 21 people — including the professor — in a classroom with a capacity of 25.

Being confined in the small classroom made me anxious about COVID-19 spreading. Even my professor was uncomfortable and was luckily able to find a bigger classroom. What she could not find a larger room?

COVID-19 will continue to overshadow students’ minds as they are trying to learn this semester, unless the implementation of a virtual option is seriously considered.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.