Students voice concerns about protections for disabled community, logistics of remote operations at student government’s Q&A

‘It is not the plan for us to stay virtual’ for entire semester, says SG President Brodie

Students voice concerns about protections for disabled community, logistics of remote operations at student government’s Q&A

Students expressed concerns about American University’s coronavirus response at a virtual question and answer session hosted by Student Government President Chyna Brodie Monday.

At Monday’s event, Brodie answered student questions about the University’s planned operations for the three upcoming weeks of remote learning.

“Going off of conversations that I had with D.C. Health, we’re going to be experiencing a surge [of Omicron cases] within the next two and a half, three weeks,” Brodie said. 

In the last days of 2021, D.C.’s COVID-19 case count increased dramatically, with approximately 2,000 new infections being confirmed daily. Brodie said that her conversations with the D.C. Department of Health indicated that students can expect in-person operations to resume once this projected spike in cases dwindles. 

Brodie said that students can expect to receive an email from administrators around Jan. 20 with updates about class modality for the rest of the semester, but said that she expects “a very low likelihood” of fully remote classes continuing past Jan. 30. 

Concerns about testing procedures

Many students in attendance at the event raised questions about the administration’s response to a petition started by AU’s Disabled Student Union, which is asking the University to implement mandatory testing for all students at least twice a month.

Brodie said that, because the University facilitates its testing through the external party ShieldT3, biweekly testing of every student on campus could “overwhelm the system.”

“We will have some form of routine testing when everyone gets back this January, but I do not want to promise that in a school of over 8,000 kids, everyone will be getting tested every two weeks,” Brodie said. 

DSU’s petition referenced a number of other universities that currently do require their students to undergo more frequent testing, including George Washington University. Brodie said that these universities have a higher testing capacity because most received federal or state funding to develop their own testing centers and labs.

“Each and every one of these universities leads back to extensive in-house testing or an extensive in-house lab,” Brodie said.

Nearby Gallaudet University also administers its testing through a partnership with ShieldT3 and mandates weekly testing for its roughly 1,000-person student body.

Some students at the event pushed back on Brodie’s response to the petition, questioning the University’s commitment to addressing the disabled community’s concerns, as well as Brodie’s commitment to advocating for what students are asking for to the administration.

“Disabled students deserve better,” DSU President Katherine Greenstein wrote in the chatbox.

According to a comment in the chatbox from junior Stacia Tomlinson, one of Brodie’s cabinet members who helped to facilitate the event, SG is “working with the Faculty Senate and administration to provide as many accommodations for students that do not feel comfortable on campus.”

Some students also raised concerns about the availability of the testing center, such as having longer hours and keeping the center open on weekends. 

Brodie recommended that any student with concerns about the University’s testing policy contact Fanta Aw, the vice president of campus life and inclusive excellence. 

Students question cost and benefit

Brodie said that, based on conversations she has had with University administrators, students should not count on having any portion of their tuition refunded for the spring semester.

“Last time we received a discount was when we went online for a full year, and that discount was only 10 percent,” Brodie said, referring to the University’s tuition reduction for the fully remote fall 2020 semester.

In-person living and learning in January

While students who need to access laboratory spaces for capstone projects or research work will be able to, Brodie said the majority of learning until Jan. 30 will be conducted virtually to mitigate infection rates.

“Exposure in in-person lectures definitely played a significant role in contact tracing as you all saw throughout the [fall] semester,” Brodie said.

Brodie said that she is working with administrators to assist students who are not located in the Eastern Standard Time zone, including international students.

Residence halls will reopen on Jan. 6, as scheduled before the announcement of remote classes. Students are still allowed to return to their dorms on this date. However, in its Dec. 28 announcement, the University encouraged students to stay home because “it may be more convenient for isolating … or for participating in online classes.”

Some attendees raised concerns about whether students will follow social distancing guidelines and other public health recommendations once back in their residence halls.

“We can’t control the decisions of individuals who choose to ignore public health guidelines,” Brodie said. “Dorms are opening because … students have the right to access their dorms.”

For any students who left essential belongings in their dorms before leaving for winter break but do not plan to return to campus before Jan. 30, Brodie said they can contact their residence hall staff to inquire about having items shipped to their homes.

For dining, Brodie said that “a majority” of campus facilities will be accessible for grab-and-go service. Dining locations will offer to-go boxes for students to take their food home.

For students who do not plan on returning to campus before Jan. 30, Brodie said that she is discussing the possibility of introducing another meal swipe donation program with administrators.

Brodie told students to expect an email providing more specific details about dining modifications from the administration within the coming days.

Brodie said that University buildings will open before Jan. 30. The library will operate on modified hours, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. The University’s shuttle buses will also continue to run during this period. 

Both the Cassell and Jacobs Fitness Centers will also be open to students. Brodie said that this measure was taken because, for some students, a lack of access to exercise facilities “represents a deterioration of their mental health.”

Brodie encouraged members of club sports to contact AU RecFit for information about whether their teams will be permitted to practice before Jan. 30. 

Brodie advised Federal Work-Study recipients to contact their supervisors for information about remote job modalities. She confirmed that desk receptionists will still be required to work in person.

Brodie said that the University will be offering free KN95 masks to students before in-person classes resume.

As the University prepares for another semester amid the pandemic, Brodie encouraged students to contact her via email at president@ausg.org with any concerns that they have.

“I don’t want anyone in our community to feel anxious, unheard or unseen,” Brodie said. 

kcorliss@theeagleonline.com 

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