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Students divided on full return to in-person instruction in the fall

With registration opening March 29, some students are enthusiastic to return to USF’s campuses while others are concerned about the risks the pandemic presents. ORACLE PHOTO/LEDA ALVIM

When Michelle Velez, a freshman majoring in marketing, heard the news that fall courses would be in person and mimic “pre-COVID-19” operations, she felt uncomfortable. She said going back to normal campus activities felt like an unnecessary risk for her.

For her, returning to normalcy feels rushed and the only safe option for the fall semester would be to continue with online classes. With class registration for the summer and fall terms opening up March 29, students like Velez have also weighed how they feel about going back to an active campus life after more than a year of living in a remote environment.

“I do not feel ready to come back to school. My entire college experience has been online. Shifting to a class in person feels strange, especially now with COVID cases still rising,” Velez said.

“There have been cases of colleges/universities in Florida, USF included, that have experienced students getting COVID-19 due to attending in-person classes. Opening up schools for more students to attend in person feels like we are setting ourselves a trap.”

The evolving vaccination process and reduced restrictions on social interaction has made many students feel comfortable to return to normal activities during summer and fall. However, others still feel uncertain about it.

Even with President Joe Biden’s announcement March 11 that by late May all adults in the U.S. will have access to a vaccine, Velez doesn’t feel safe returning to normal activities. Having lost family members to the virus, she doesn’t want to expose herself to the risks associated with the return to normalcy.

“I know USF wants to be mostly in person for the fall, but for me having everyone gather up in one place for classes feels risky,” she said. “Not everyone is going to wear a mask correctly or follow the rules. I have had several family members who sadly have passed away due to COVID-19 and the best way to prevent the spread is limiting contact.”

Some students who have experienced being on campus this semester are not concerned about the full return to in-person classes in the fall semester. Michelle Pavao, a freshman majoring in broadcast media, said she feels USF’s policies have COVID-19 under control.

“I am not scared or too worried,” Pavao said. “I take one class on campus now and with safety policies still in place such as social distancing and wearing masks [and] I feel safe on campus. I do hope this policy is still in place when we return full time to campus next semester.”

Like Pavao, Tales Foryta Jacoski, a sophomore majoring in chemical engineering, said he has felt safe taking hybrid classes this semester.

When attending in-person classes, he said he can concentrate better and he is looking forward to having all of his classes in person again, despite having a good experience with online learning.

“I’m really excited to [return to campus full time],” Jacoski said. “I think it was a great experience just to be [completely] online, I think it was a valid experience. Everybody learned how to change the schedules, or change the way you live. But I’m actually not afraid, I’m kind of excited to come back to normal, and I think everything’s going to work out fine.”

Going back to in-person activities means spending time commuting and going to campus again, a concern that made Nur Bahsas Alsafadi, a sophomore majoring in integrated public relations and advertising (IPRA), worried about the fall semester.

“Right now, with online learning, I feel like I can just wake up a few minutes before my classes at 9 a.m. and simply open my laptop and watch the class, but with physical learning I have to wake up, walk 30 minutes to the campus and come back, figure out when am I going to have lunch and that kind of stuff,” Alsafadi said.

“So that’s something that I worry about, because I’ve gotten so used to online learning.”

Still, she is glad classes will be in person again as she wants to interact with professors again and get to know her classmates beyond her computer’s screen.

“The [online] classes are almost like optional,” Alsafadi said. “You can hear them in the background or watch them later, and it takes away that sense of responsibility that you have to constantly be watching it. You also can’t really connect with your professors or ask questions in the moment, or even get a sense of who your classmates are.”

Students who will be taking classes in Summer B will be the first to experience a normal semester again, according to Provost Ralph Wilcox.

While some students plan to take classes or work during the summer, others are waiting to see how the pandemic and vaccination distribution progress to move forward with their plans of traveling or going out.

In the case of IPRA major Henry Calderon, he said he will be focusing on taking a summer class and saving money. He hopes this summer he will be able to go out more with his friends, but he said he will stay home if it is necessary to be safe.

“I want to see how COVID comes along, especially with the vaccines coming out more often,” Calderon said. “It’s looking like it’s becoming a little bit more safe to go out, and I would, but until then I’ll just be safe and stay home.”

As someone who doesn’t go out much, Alsafadi is not rushing to get her vaccine, although she said she would like to go out during the summer without worrying about getting COVID-19.

“I think it all depends on how the situation develops, for right now I don’t have a vaccine,” Alsafadi said.

“I don’t have any issues that would require me to get a vaccine, so I’m very careful with how I go out and I try not to expose myself too much. If in the summer the situation continues as it is I don’t believe that I’ll be going out to parties or anything along those lines, maybe the pool, the beach and things that are in open spaces.”

Enjoying time with his friends and attending events on campus is one of the things Calderon has missed the most this past year. He said the pandemic made him realize he wanted to become more involved in college activities and has made him value his campus experiences more.

“I mean, ever since COVID-19 hit, everybody’s been quarantined, isolated,” Calderon said.

“School is going by quick. I’m [going to be] a senior and I kind of want to be more involved to get to know more people before I finally graduate [in spring 2022]. If I go back, and then I don’t join any clubs, I’ll feel regret and I wouldn’t want to feel that way. So I want to just join all the different clubs, get to know more people and just get around.”