The mid-semester residential experience at American University was filled with spitting in tubes, room capacity restrictions and daily self-screenings. Classes were online and friends were spread across the globe. Only some students ever made it to campus at the end of the spring semester.
Fall 2021 promises to be different. According to the AU Forward plan, “American University is looking forward to offering a robust and in-person experience.” Dorms are open to normal capacity. Most classes will be held in-person, although some larger classes will remain online and online instruction will be available to students who need it. Vaccinated students will only be tested if exposed, unlike during the mid-semester residential experience program. In an email sent out on Aug. 6, President Sylvia Burwell said “all AU community members will wear masks while indoors in any campus facility or AU building.”
The fall will somewhat resemble the life we left behind in March 2020. We can hang out in groups on the quad again, without masks (unless we are in groups of 25 or more). We can sit side by side with classmates at actual desks and tables, not in our beds. For those of us who are vaccinated, we can finally turn off the alarm on our phones that reminds us to get tested twice a week.
After a traumatic year, I think this plan is the best thing we could ask for: safety where it’s needed and freedom, too. Freshman will have a relatively normal experience. Or so we think.
It is important to note that the pandemic is still very much reality. The delta variant rages on. In fact, D.C, reinstated part of its mask mandate at the end of July, and AU did the same. As cases begin to ramp up again — even among the vaccinated — more safety measures are put in place. The pre-March 2020 life that we are craving is farther away than we thought at the beginning of the summer. If cases continue to increase the way that they are, the University might be forced to do more than just reinstate the mask mandate to protect us.
In this situation, the best thing for the University to do is to be as transparent as possible. Let students know about contingency plans. What levels of infection — on campus or in the wider D.C. community — would mandate a total shutdown of in-person activities? Is there a possibility that we could go totally online again? In that case, would students be kicked out of University housing or would they be allowed to stay while classes are online, similar to the MRSE?
AU students are scared right now. Most of us thought that the pandemic would be over by now and we would have a totally normal fall. This is unfortunately no longer the case and behavior by the administration needs to reflect that. The University should be clear about how many on-campus, off-campus, or faculty COVID-19 cases they have. The number of tests administered each week should be accessible with the COVID-19 tracker AU used during the MRSE.
Our fall won’t be the pre-March 2020 experience most of us hoped for, but the University can give students peace of mind by being clear and transparent with the COVID-19 situation.
Riley Lorgus is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences and an opinion columnist for The Eagle.