Staff Editorial: University’s communication during online classes marks a disconnect with a diverse student body
Multiple petitions across the student body reflect that the University is not listening
American University students released a petition that calls for AU administration to reduce the cost of tuition in response to President Sylvia Burwell’s announcement that the University will not provide discounted tuition despite the transition to online learning for the month in a Jan. 10 email.
As students shift back to in-person classes and the modality of classes is no longer inhibited by the coronavirus pandemic, it is still important to acknowledge the University’s shortcomings in their communication with students.
With the switch to virtual classes in response to the rise in Omicron cases, the University left campus services open with limited operations. The decision to open residence halls left students to make the moral choice on whether they should return to D.C. while cases were among the highest in the country, or pay for dorms they were not living in. Whichever decision they made, they were disadvantaged somehow.
Students who chose the option to return to residence halls, which opened on Jan. 6, were met with restrictive campus services. The University sent a guide on navigating campus during January to students, including what food places are open and buildings for study. Despite sending these resources, students still faced difficulty with limited options and locations on campus. We acknowledge that there has been a staff shortage across the country, as there likely was on campus. Still, the University could’ve remedied the situation by allowing students the option to reduce their meal plan or provide a monetary stipend to order from off-campus.
In addition to poor communication surrounding food options, traveling outside campus posed an issue for a majority of students on-campus during online operations. Students have reported having problems activating their U-Pass and difficulty explaining to the station managers or bus drivers the issues at hand. In some instances, a few students had enough and went through the process of attaining a new U-Pass because of how frequently they used the transportation service.
Communication from the administration is crucial in the face of changing University operations. Due to confusion surrounding the expectations for the spring semester, Provost Peter Starr and other AU officials were present at the AU Academic Forum and community forum to answer students’ frequently asked questions. During the discussion, Provost Starr stood by the administration’s plan not to distribute a tuition discount, as he stated that virtual learning had the “exact same value” as face-to-face learning and that we, as a community, are no longer in an economic necessity to issue a 10 percent discount.
While there are several factors that could influence the University’s inability to alter tuition, this justification is flawed. Students across different time zones often rise earlier for online classes than for in-person classes. Not every student may have access to resources such as a stable wifi connection. For AU to assume that since the pandemic is no longer new to us, students and families are not still impacted financially by its effects proves how out of touch the University is to the diverse student body.
Petitions like this and the one calling for mandatory weekly testing show the amount of laborious activism students put in to advocate for their welfare. Students often go the extra mile to provide for their communities, demonstrated through resolutions such as Student Government President Chyna Brodie advocating for access to KN95 masks.
The University overlooks the opportunity they have to directly involve student voices in their decision-making process by delaying their response to pressing student concerns. AU students are ambitious in their wants and needs for a secure learning experience, and the University needs to listen. Instead of being reactive to accountability, we demand that the University show complete transparency in making COVID-19 protocols and exercise the ability to be intersectional when coming to a decision.