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Students voice concerns over University's plans to return in fall

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Students sit in the quad on Monday, Feb. 3, 2020. With campus set to reopen in the fall, crowds like the ones pictured here are one of the many reasons students are worried about the safety of returning to campus.

Students are responding to UNC’s plan to return to campus in the fall — announced by Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz on Thursday — with a range of concerns, including worries about their health and safety and fears of burnout and academic stress as a result of a shortened schedule.

Under the University's current plan, fall semester will begin Aug. 10 and final exams will finish by Nov. 24.

Student Body President Reeves Moseley said Undergraduate Student Government is planning to release a Google Forms survey in which students can ask questions and share comments and concerns about returning in the fall. These responses will be shared with UNC's administration so they can be addressed in the upcoming Carolina's Roadmap website.

Moseley said that his administration is currently working on how to implement social distancing measures in classes. In the fall, he said, his administration will make sure students have the opportunity to vote in the 2020 election despite the pandemic and focus on mental health advocacy through a cross-collaboration mental health initiative with Duke University and N.C. State University.

“Everything we’ve known prior to this pandemic has changed now, especially in the realm of school,” Moseley said. “We’re focusing on how different kinds of circumstances look different on a case-by-case basis and how we can accommodate all of those needs for every student.”   

Grace Angelino, a junior from Davidson, North Carolina, is worried that it is unsafe to return to campus at all.

“I think the safest thing would be having classes fully online, but people don’t learn as well online and people obviously don’t want to pay full tuition to basically go to an online university,” Angelino said.

Angelino, who has an autoimmune condition that puts her at higher risk for COVID-19, said she was disappointed that the University has not offered more accommodations for students like her.

Selena Nguyen, a senior from Concord, North Carolina, said returning to campus is necessary for those who have struggled with online learning and are facing mental health issues while isolated at home.

“If we were to continue another semester of online learning, I know for a fact that people would consider taking gap years or just completely dropping out and trying again once everything returns to normal,” she said. “It definitely accommodates those people who have no choice but to go back.”

Carolina's Roadmap, which outlines UNC’s plan for the fall, includes the Carolina Away program. Carolina Away will allow up to 1,000 undergraduates, including some international students and students who prefer not to live in residence halls, to take the fall semester online. 

Nguyen said she is confused about exactly who would be eligible to participate in Carolina Away and is concerned that it will not accommodate enough students.

“I think there should be a lot more detail given to the students who need answers right now,” she said of the program. “I’m worried that it’s not going to be broadened enough that everyone will get the accommodations that they need. There are a lot of unanswered questions.”

International students like sophomore James Oh are still unclear about what next semester will be like for them. Oh, who is from South Korea, said he has not received any guidance from UNC about what he should expect in the fall.

“I don’t have any information about, when I arrive in the States, whether I have to go to two weeks of quarantine or not,” he said. “If international students do have to do two weeks of quarantine, do they get extra accommodations? Do they have an option to take online courses during that period? Do they have to find their own rooms?”

UNC Media Relations said in an email statement that any student with concerns should reach out to the CV-19 Student Care Hub by visiting keeplearning.unc.edu.

UNC offers other COVID-19 resources, such as the Carolina Student Impact Fund and support groups for students. International students can reach out to International Students and Scholar Services advisers via email and Zoom with any questions. 

Sarah Anne Muller, a senior from Clayton, North Carolina, expressed concerns about the new academic calendar, which eliminates Fall Break and reading days.

“We get those reading days in between exams so you're not taking four hard exams back-to-back,” Muller said. “Are you telling me I’m going to have to be prepared to go a week straight of non-stop testing? That’s going to be very mentally, physically and emotionally taxing.”

Muller is also worried about what her class schedule will look like if class sizes and times are altered. She said she is concerned she could be dropped from important classes or won’t be able to make a rearranged schedule work with her full-time job.

UNC Media Relations said in an email statement that classes will be offered in a variety of formats, and students should enroll in those that best meet their needs. The University will reach out to students in June with more information, they said.

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During a media availability on Thursday, Chancellor Guskiewicz also said that large student gatherings, like tailgates or fraternity parties, would likely be restricted.

Angelino said she thinks it will be difficult to keep students from gathering in groups.

“People are going to be back around their friends that they haven’t seen in a long time,” she said. “There’s definitely going to be a huge temptation to gather for social events, parties, etc. outside of class.”

Nguyen said that, despite the uncertainty, students should try to be more understanding of UNC’s plan.

“It was a difficult situation where I knew no matter what option or what plan UNC was going to have, something somewhere was going to be unsatisfactory and inconvenient, so generally I thought it was good for a first plan,” she said.

@sararaja_

university@dailytarheel.com