• Olivia Wong

Students Speak Out: Hoping for Hybrid

Savoy Collier, a fourth-year psychology student at Jefferson University East Falls campus, sent an email to the Provost of Jefferson calling for a change in the university policies, specifically options for modes of learning on January 25, 2021. This interview through The Digital Voice gives the rest of the population at Jefferson a chance to hear his thoughts and opinions about the pandemic and its many consequences for students and their families alike.

Q: Many professors have offered the option to email them for a Zoom link if students would like to virtually attend class if they have been exposed to COVID-19 or are feeling symptomatic. Is this enough, or do you feel that Jefferson University should offer a more clear and concrete option to go hybrid considering the severity of the pandemic at this point in time?

Savoy Collier: “I think that the option should definitely be mandated for the entire university and should not be done on a case-by-case basis. I have spoken to students who have asked their professors for an online option, and they do not always get that option. I think that not having a general consensus on offering people different avenues leaves a lot of room for confusion. It is not very accommodating for people who are immunocompromised themselves or have immunocompromised family members.”

Q: Other universities have required the entire student population to submit a negative COVID test before returning to school for the spring 2022 semester. Considering the difficulty of obtaining a test and limited supplies around the country, would you have wanted this to happen? If so, why? Furthermore, do you think students should be tested weekly regardless of exposure status?

SC: “I think this is a part of the problem. We should have definitely had testing to share a space with other students and faculty, but the issue is that we are trying to force normalcy where one cannot exist. We are in a time of crisis where testing is not available for everyone, and I don’t think we have reached the peak of the Omicron variant. So, I believe it was irresponsible for the university to not have at least given an option to return. It would be ideal for people to get tested, but it’s just not realistic. It’s also not realistic for us to force people back in person, so this is the reason why the hybrid option should be offered.”

Q: After you sent this email on January 25, 2022, did you receive any responses from other students or the provost himself?

SC: “I did receive responses from students who 100 percent agreed with me, saying they were scared to return to campus or that they were immunocompromised themselves. They felt like they didn’t have a voice, and me speaking up was a chance for them to feel heard. I did speak to the Dean of Students privately and he forwarded my concerns to the Provost, so everything should be addressed. Even if there isn’t a change, at least we will know what their stance is.”

Q: Would you want the university to always offer the hybrid option as long as the pandemic remains serious? What would be the consequences for this, good and bad?

SC: “We had the option to be online or in person last year. If we did it that long, it is very doable and I do not see that many downsides to it. I know that we must weigh in-person interactions and health concerns, but it is unfair to cast immunocompromised students to the side for a full classroom setting. It is time to adjust our thinking, and we cannot just throw our hands up in the air and give up.

Q: Are there any other thoughts you would like to share?

SC: “My email was not to cause division but to act as a voice for people who did not feel heard. This call is an opportunity for the university to care about those who are concerned about their well-being. If we want change, it cannot just be one student, it must be the collective that comes together as a community.”

The virtual Town Hall meeting, held on January 31, 2022, addressed Collier’s concerns about in-person learning for the spring semester. Prompted by a question in the chat, Jefferson University Provost Mark Tykocinski spoke about the reasoning behind the initial remote decision for the start of 2022. He stated that the safest place for students was on campus because it is optimally set up for health services at a level that was required by the pandemic. In addition, he praised students and faculty for their resilience and flexibility for the past 22 months, but noted that on-campus learning was the best way for students to not lose time in their college lives.

Senior Associate Provost Peter Miller also weighed in on the main reason for the university’s decision. He explained that Jefferson is a professions-focused school, which requires studio, classroom, and simulation experiences that are impossible to virtually replicate. Attending classes on campus gives students access to faculty, study groups, and interpersonal learning, so Miller believes now is not the time for flex learning. However, if students were concerned about COVID-19 for any reason, whether it be accidental exposure or immunocompromised family members, Jefferson is consistent with contact tracing and will provide tests at the Student Health Center. There was also a spotlight on the playbook as well as the enhanced mask guidelines from last semester, serving as another precaution for the safety of the university’s students and faculty.

If students were in need of resources during this uneasy time, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications Pat Baldridge mentioned academic advisers and program directors as the first people to speak to regarding learning during the pandemic. She emphasized, “Jefferson cares about the academic progression of their students.” If people needed support or alternative options, she encouraged them to speak to someone and assured them that they are here to listen.

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