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Some professors switch classrooms following campus lockdowns

Richard Vernon, director of the Portuguese program at UNC Chapel Hill smiles outside of Dey Hall on Monday, October 2nd, 2023.

Minutes after Emily Halpin, a professor in the UNC School of Education, and her class received the all-clear Alert Carolina message after the lockdown on Sept. 13, school leadership came to her classroom and suggested the option of switching rooms. 

Halpin agreed, and within a day, she had an alternative classroom option. She said she wanted to explore the option of other rooms within Peabody Hall to make the learning environment of her classroom feel normal once again.

“A lot of students the second time were really, really upset, I think even more so honestly than the first time because they felt triggered being in that exact same place,” Halpin said. 

According to an email statement from the Office of the University Registrar, very few classroom change requests have referenced events relating to the lockdowns. 

“Sometimes it is difficult to make changes as the semester is underway, but with this particular situation, people were very amenable to it and very OK with, ‘Let’s make that happen if that is what students want,’” Halpin said. 

The registrar’s office also said professors who wish to change classrooms must have Student Services staff in their department submit a request. 

“The Scheduling team carefully reviews each request and checks for availability of the desired new location for the class section,” the office said.

However, with a class of about 45 students, a large lecture hall on the first floor was the only other classroom in Peabody Hall that could accommodate Halpin's class. 

Halpin said she sent out an anonymous poll to her class asking whether they would prefer to remain in the same room — a smaller room tucked behind a corner on the second floor — or switch to one on the first floor.

“The last thing that I want is for someone to be sitting there knowing that, ‘I really don’t want to be there in this space, but I have to be,'" Halpin said. "Because that is not conducive to learning."

Daiana Mendoza-Acosta is a senior who was in Halpin's class during both lockdowns. 

“The one problem with the other classroom that was being considered was it is on the first floor,” Mendoza-Acosta said. “We are not on the first floor right now so it's closer to the doors and things, and people might have a problem with that.”

Halpin said she heard mixed reviews from her students about changing rooms. Some wanted to move because they felt the classroom brought back traumatic memories, while others wanted to stay in the second-floor classroom because they felt less safe on the first floor. 

“I definitely see both sides," Halpin said. "I understand why some students wanted to change — how the classroom was a trigger. I also understand how other students feel safer being where we are currently.”

Her class ultimately opted to stay in their classroom on the second floor, though she said she wanted to make sure all of her students felt as comfortable as possible in the space.

Richard Vernon, director of UNC's undergraduate Portuguese language program, moved his class to a different room after the first lockdown.

He and four other professors within the Portuguese program decided to switch their classrooms in Dey Hall after the first lockdown. 

“As we were contemplating going back into the classroom, I think a few of us were all thinking the same thing: ‘What will it be like for students who were traumatized by the event to have to try to concentrate on learning in the same space they experienced that trauma?’” Vernon said in an email.

Kristine Taylor, assistant director of the Portuguese program at UNC, spearheaded the idea for the five professors to switch classrooms. 

Because the first lockdown happened so early in the semester, Taylor said she did not feel like her class had established a "learning community" yet. 

By switching rooms with the other professors, she said she felt it gave her students a new start for them to learn in a different space. 

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“Starting fresh was for the students, but also for the professors," Taylor said. "In the classroom — especially in small classes, in language classes where we interact a lot — we do become a learning community, the faculty and the students together."

Vernon said the five professors who switched classrooms notified their department of the switch after they had already made the move, rather than submitting an official request first. 


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