Staff Editorial: Guidelines for the fall will be instrumental for a successful semester
The University has a responsibility to make sure AU community feels safe
The recent significant updates on fall operations allow American University students to start to picture what the fall semester will look like. With the University deciding to hold almost all classes in-person and implementing a vaccine requirement, the outlook seems positive. Students are eager to get back on campus, but there must be extensive protections in place for student, staff and faculty safety.
While a vaccine mandate is an important factor in reducing risk, international students are left wondering what will happen if they can’t access an FDA-authorized coronavirus vaccine. Students in countries without U.S. FDA-authorized vaccines or without vaccines at all are still awaiting more details about where they fit into this mandate. Within the United States, vaccine rollout has been disparate. Being eligible for a vaccine doesn’t necessarily mean being able to get one sooner. Some universities across the country are participating in the rollout by providing vaccines for their students. If AU is choosing not to do the same, how can administration guarantee students will be able to get the vaccine for the fall semester? If the University is going to mandate that students be vaccinated, it must take steps to ensure all students have access to the vaccine.
What measures will be implemented beyond a vaccine requirement, beyond masking and social distancing? Eagle reporting revealed that the University was not strictly enforcing COVID-19 guidelines. AU has successful examples of how to safely manage an in-person presence during a pandemic from universities across the country. If enforcement is relaxed right now, what will that mean for students’ safety in the future? The University needs to take this seriously now, especially considering our limited understanding of how long vaccines will be effective.
Beyond the public health concerns, there are a variety of adjustments to the campus environment the University will have to consider. In the fall, AU will be orienting essentially two freshmen classes to college. While some current freshmen had the opportunity to be on campus for a few weeks, it was hardly a typical introduction to college life. Freshman year is already a difficult and pivotal time without the weight of a pandemic. How will the University support both the sophomores and freshmen this fall? What steps will be taken to build the community that was missing for a year?
Online learning was not ideal for everyone, but some adjustments and lessons from the past year provide the University with an opportunity to improve what was once ‘normal’ learning. Aspects of the online format made learning more accessible for some students. The University should consider incorporating things like recorded lectures and adjusted attendance policies into normal learning. After more than a year in this format, making these changes a permanent part of classes would help students adjust or re-adjust to in-person learning and create an overall more accessible environment.
An important lesson the University should take from two-and-a-half online semesters is the need to care for mental health. Professors can and should play a large role in this. In an isolating time, there was not enough understanding and support. Professors should be mandated to check in with students. This can be done by promoting office hours and making classrooms a more welcoming environment. It should not just be individual professors choosing to have this level of discussion with their students; all professors should understand that what happens outside of class impacts students’ abilities to focus and participate in class.
Everyone wants the fall semester to be as safe and as successful as possible. The University’s responsibility to the AU and D.C. communities cannot be overstated.