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The Daily Tar Heel

‘You don’t walk towards a red flag’: Students debate returning to campus

Sophomore Tamsin Engel brings a suitcase into Kenan Residence Hall for move-in on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020.

"Do I want to spend another semester living with my parents?" 

"What will Chapel Hill look like with an empty Kenan Stadium or Dean Dome?"

"What if I get COVID-19 while attending UNC?"

"Will professors have an alternate syllabus for this situation?"

These are just some of the many questions UNC students had to ask themselves as they debated their return to campus this fall during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

With Black student leaders calling for an all-remote semester and the recent announcement by Granville Towers that students living in East Tower will be unable to move in until at least Aug. 29, many factors went into the decision. 

Breaking down the decision

Sophomore Madison Wommack recently made the decision to stay home and complete her classes remotely after weighing out all aspects of returning to Chapel Hill. One reason was that her classes were all remote. Another was that the status of her on-campus job at the library was uncertain. The third reason was more personal. 

“My dad works in the ER, so why would I risk taking it back to campus?” Wommack said. “There's a lot of safety reasons on top of convenience and financial reasons.” 

Students have been given the opportunity to rearrange their classes after seeing whether they will be offered as completely remote, hybrid or face-to-face on Connect Carolina.  

Even with the option to go remote, some students, like sophomore Jolie Koonce, are choosing to come back to Chapel Hill in the fall. 

After learning there was a chance refunds would not be given for housing, Koonce signed a lease for an off-campus apartment. 

With most of her friends living in the Triangle area, Koonce felt that remaining in Chapel Hill would make the semester feel as normal as possible. 

“Just being in the area makes me feel much more like it's actually school, you know?” Koonce said. "And being around my friends and everything, I didn't want there to be the possibility that I had to go back home, because I live fairly far away from Chapel Hill. And everyone else lives in the Triangle that are my friends.”

Sophomore Clay Morris also said most of his friends are living off-campus, but remaining in Chapel Hill to have some sort of normalcy — and a few are choosing to live on campus. 

“I do have a couple friends who are living on campus,” Morris said. “The reason that they went back primarily is that they secured on-campus jobs and so they want to make that money and in order to do that, they feel like it would be best if they lived on campus.”

'You don’t walk towards a red flag'

Whether on-campus or off, Morris said his friends are nervous, especially with rising COVID-19 case numbers on campus. As of Aug. 10, there are 189 cumulative total positive campus cases, according to the UNC COVID-19 dashboard. 

“Even my friends who are off campus were pretty terrified when they saw that because they were like, ‘We’re obviously not getting any better, so why are they leading us into what you could call a death trap?Why are they putting all of this extra burden on Chapel Hill and its residents if the numbers are so clear?’” Morris said. “You don’t walk towards a red flag, you typically turn around.” 

As upperclassmen are figuring out new living situations, debating their return to campus and trying to sign up for their major classes this fall, the incoming class of 2024 has to weigh the pros and cons of starting their college career in the midst of a pandemic. 

First-year Savannah Pless told The Daily Tar Heel in late July that she was “99.9% positive” she’d live on campus this fall, despite all of her classes being online. 

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“It's a hard decision to make when all your classes are online anyway. And I'm actually financially responsible for my schooling,” Pless said. “So I have to think, do I want to pay for a dorm and maybe have a little bit of that freshman year experience? Or do I want to just stay home, save money and do classes online?”

But after making a pros and cons list, Pless ultimately ended up enrolling in Carolina Away for the fall semester. Staying home allows her to save money on what she would have spent on housing and a meal plan at UNC, she said. 

“Also, I feel like I'll be able to adjust to the rigor of college courses, since I'm a first-year, without having to also adjust from being away from home,” Pless said. “And that could maybe benefit me as well.”

As students are making alternate plans for this semester, having access to pertinent information is an essential. UNC’s Roadmap for Fall 2020 attempts to provide students with updated information regarding the fall semester. 

But not everyone agrees that the University did its best in providing up-to-date information via its weekly email updates and the Roadmap for Fall 2020. 

“I feel like a lot of the information that I have figured out about my situation and what's going on, has not been received clearly through the University,” Wommack said. "I wasn't getting the information that confirmed whether or not I was going to be able to stay home."

Koonce also agrees that there has been a lack of communication from the University.

“I think there's been a lack of real action and communication,” Koonce said. “As far as what's really going to be feasible, I don't think we're going to be able to continue... I know from an economic standpoint, it's really hard for them to shut down the campus and they're doing this to get money, but I think it's kind of irresponsible and doesn't have our best interest and well-being at heart.”

In an email statement, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Bob Blouin responded to students’ dissatisfaction.

“I understand students have concerns and questions and they’re right to be concerned,” Blouin stated. “We are doing everything possible and working diligently to address their questions and to provide the most thorough information so they can make a decision that is best for their individual situation.” 

Blouin concluded his statement with a reassurance that UNC is committed to having a safe fall semester.

“We have a plan in place for a safe and successful semester, and we will continuously examine and assess that plan so we can adapt as necessary,” Blouin said.