It is not a secret that it has been a tumultuous and unexpected school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic that forced universities to transition to online-learning and radically alter communications on campus. However, there may be a silver lining for students in the future: UBC has publicly shared statements of a foreseeable return to campus and increased on-campus activities, including on-campus instruction, in the 2021/22 Winter Session.
President and Vice-Chancellor Santa J. Ono writes, “Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, provided information for B.C. public post-secondary institutions to guide planning for a return to on-campus activity this fall. Based on current immunization timelines and vaccine approvals, and with strong and effective safety plans in place, I can confirm that UBC is planning for a return to on-campus activity for Winter Session, Term 1, in September.” In light of this hopeful news that was sent to students through UBC Broadcast, The Phoenix wanted to know how UBCO students feel about this likely return to campus and if students are feeling apprehensive, excited, or both/neither.
Many students who responded to our survey expressed feelings of excitement and relief about the plan for increased on-campus activities in September. One student responded with joyful anticipation, sharing, “I’m super excited! It’s been a year since I went back home and it wasn’t too great for my mental health…I’m also really excited to see all my friends (even if we have to maintain a 6 feet distance) and be able to attend class.” Other students similarly echoed that sentiment, “I would love to finally be able to have back my university life, finally see all my friends, be able to talk to profs after the class and just delete zoom from my laptop completely…” and “I am so happy, this year has been very difficult for me, I miss my friends.” Another optimistic student shares, “I’m excited but terrified at the same time. I think to be comfortable enough to go back to in-person classes I’ll need to get my vaccination. It is a relief though that my last year of my undergrad could be in person next year if I’m comfortable enough and maybe I can actually get an in-person grad ceremony as well!! I also learn so much better in person and I’m excited to go back to being able to speak to my classmates and profs face to face!”
Understandably, students are ready to live in a “post-pandemic world” and return to a sense of tangible normalcy where socializing can occur face-to-face rather than in small black boxes via Zoom. In a post-COVID world, students can “learn in person and be able to get physical books for school and meet new people.” However, not all students were as hopeful and excited as others. Many expressed their conflicting emotions about the return to in-person activities on campus and about the efficacy of UBC’s plans and the reality of vaccine distribution:
“I’m a little worried about contracting the virus once school starts. However, I really do believe that if we all strictly follow the safety precautions (quarantining, social distancing, wearing masks, sanitizing our hands after every class, vaccinating, etc.) then we’d be safer and it would be okay to return to school.”
“It would be nice to see people, but also might not be the best idea. I honestly think if we go back, there will be an outbreak on campus and we'll have to leave again. The vaccine is not going to make everything better, we still need to socially distance and wear our masks. My mental health says we should take the risk, but my logical brain says it's not worth it.”
“Honestly it's kinda scary. I wish they give us the option to still do classes asynchronously since the change might be too sudden for a lot of people including me. I wish they would do this in-person thing slowly, and in phases maybe.”
“I’m really nervous. The change seems quite sudden. I’m also annoyed that they can’t give a solid answer to whether school is in-person or not. The information that was released made it seem like they could easily rescind the decision. I’m saving tons of money with online school from home, and I’m anxious about moving to a brand new place during a global catastrophe.”
“I feel it is really irresponsible and unfair to expect students to plan to move back with no real tangible safety plan. It is just too soon with the realistic vaccine roll out not including how these new mutations are going to pan out.” Not surprisingly, many students are concerned about the reality of increased on-campus activities and whether or not the rewards are worth the risk. One student bluntly expressed their opinion on the matter, stating, “Everyone’s been going out and ignoring the rules anyway so I might as well get a quality education.”
It is clear that the student survey results reveal a mixture of excitement, apprehension, concern, and relief. UBC’s statement aims to curb any such anxieties students may have, for Ono writes, “Dr. Henry is clear that post-secondary institutions, such as UBC, should be confident that a return to on-campus instruction and increased levels of on-campus research activity can be undertaken safely and successfully… [especially since] The Provincial Health Office indicated that current projections of the COVID-19 vaccine supply in B.C. suggest everyone, who is eligible, will receive a vaccination by mid-summer.”
Although it is evident this statement has not fully assured UBCO students, Ono stresses that “the health and wellbeing of our UBC community remain our first priority. As such, we are embarking on further planning, in collaboration with public health, to accommodate more on-campus activities. This includes transit planning; quarantine arrangements for international students (if required); options for on-site immunization; and the availability of study spaces.”
The SUO, Student’s Union Okanagan of UBC, shared a statement via Instagram on March 24th, 2021, regarding increased in-person activities on campus. The SUO emphasizes that they “remain committed to advocating for you to ensure our students receive all the support they need when we return to campus in September.”
In this Instagram video, SUO President Ali Poostizadeh states, “Whether international or domestic, undergraduate or graduate, returning to campus will pose a challenge for many of you. We want to let you know that we hear you and are working actively to bring your concerns to the Administration. The SUO is committed to working with UBC to ensure that there are accommodations in place for every student who needs them, regardless of their personal situation.”
Returning to campus will be another pandemic-related transition for the UBCO community to endure. Hopefully, it will be one that is both safe and worthwhile with the work of UBC and the SUO.