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Thursday May 26th

Six months later, undergraduates return to the classroom

Some classes have returned to in-person instruction

UNC Chapel Hill students returned to in person classes for the first time this spring semester on Feb. 8.
Buy Photos UNC Chapel Hill students returned to in person classes for the first time this spring semester on Feb. 8.

When UNC senior Grady Moomaw walked into his first and only in-person class of the semester, he expected to have to turn around due to concerns of overcrowding. 

Instead, Moomaw was met with his professor, an empty classroom and the remainder of his classmates projected onto a screen via Zoom. 

The University returned to partial in-person instruction on Feb. 8 for the first time since Aug. 19. Despite this, classes looked different than they would in a normal semester. 

“Our faculty and students have told us in-person instruction is still the preferred way to teach and learn,” Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said Sunday in an email to students. “(On Feb. 7), we spoke with our infectious disease and public health experts as well as Orange County Health Department officials and they continue to tell us that our campus COVID-19 mitigation tactics make our classrooms among the safest environments. That remains unchanged.” 

According to UNC Media Relations, 85 percent of undergraduate courses will continue to be taught remotely, and just 31 percent of students have one or two in-person classes scheduled. 

Moomaw said having an in-person class is a good change of pace, but it doesn’t make up for the pandemic’s impact on his senior year. 

“Today's been a little nicer than the past few days,” Moomaw said. “It's nice, but I don't think it really changes the reality of the situation.”

For many first-year students, this semester is the first time they will experience college courses in-person. First-year Rashika Rahman said this is her first semester living on campus, and she came specifically for the opportunity to take her ECON 101 honors course in person. 

“My last in-person class was my senior year of high school, almost a year ago, so I'm just excited to get a change of scenery,” Rahman said. “And last semester, all my classes were virtual, so I also think that being in an in-person setting would probably motivate me a bit more than just being in the same room all day long.” 

Before attending her Monday class, though, Rahman’s professor emailed the students and decided to push back in-person instruction to Feb. 17, due to concerns with student gatherings following the UNC vs. Duke basketball game on Saturday. 

“It did make me a bit concerned to come to class today," Rahman said. "And then I saw his email and I felt relieved. But at the same time I was unsure about when we'd actually return because in my head, I'm like, ‘They're gonna keep pushing it and pushing it.’” 

While some students are eager to attend in-person classes, others, including sophomore MaryFrances Warner, are not comfortable returning to in-person instruction as COVID-19 cases continue to rise. 

“I feel like everybody is trying to push so hard for normalcy, that they're pushing the future of normalcy way off in the horizon," Warner said. "They keep pushing it down the road. I feel like we shouldn't be going back, because we shouldn't have gone back the first semester, and that ended poorly. And we shouldn't be going back this semester until we have a handle on COVID.” 

Warner said she opted to take classes remotely both last semester and this semester because of how the University has dealt with the pandemic. 

“I feel like the way that the University is handling it for the most part is pretty irresponsible,” Warner said. “But I understand that they have — students that really want to be together, and they can't learn very well online, which is totally understandable.” 

Moomaw said it is helpful to offer in-person modes of instruction for students who don’t do well with online classes.

“I think it's definitely good for people's mental health and learning,” Moomaw said. “But it will probably take a lot of work.” 

The University has communicated to students that registering for in-person classes is not mandatory, and instructors can work with students concerned about attending class in person. 

“Faculty have the flexibility to allow the student to attend the course remotely, depending on the mode of instruction, or to make additional arrangements on an individual basis including providing an approved absence in the spirit of flexibility and compassion and exercising an abundance of caution,” UNC Media Relations said in an email.  

Rahman said that with the proper precautions, she is excited to finally experience class in a physical setting. 

“I'm definitely looking forward to getting to meet people,” Rahman said. “Even if it's in a socially distant and safe way.”

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