The fall semester undoubtedly looks different this year for college students. Across the nation, most students are booting up laptops and logging onto Zoom sessions rather than leaving their dorm room and running across campus to make it on time to their 8 am.
With the threat of the coronavirus in North Carolina, Queens University will have virtual instruction this semester. Originally Queens planned for in-person instruction and included a detailed re-opening plan released to the Queens community on July 16. The Royal Return plan as it was called included survey testing, mandatory use of masks and a community covenant to be signed by all students, faculty, and staff.
However, as the fall semester drew closer, Queens ultimately decided to move towards distance learning. In a July 31 memo from President Daniel Lugo sent to all students and faculty, there were three primary factors behind this decision.
“First, we asked, would the pandemic pose a significant threat to the health and safety of our students and employees?” Lugo wrote. Other factors listed asked if Queens would be able to execute the Royal Return plan effectively and if the pandemic would affect the campus educational experience. In considering these factors, Lugo said the choice was made to move to distance learning.
He doesn’t hide his disappointment in not being on campus, a sentiment likely shared by Queens students. Lugo was “heartbroken” at the decision to move to virtual instruction as shared in the memo. Still, he says it’s for the best.
“One thing we didn’t want to have was tons of disruption,” Lugo shared in a recent interview. “Disruption doesn’t help people learn. Moving here, moving back…We wanted to give a transparent and clear answer.”
Other schools throughout North Carolina have attempted in-person learning. UNC-Chapel Hill most notably made headlines last month as one of the largest schools to offer in-person classes. Nearly a week after students moved onto campus, the school made the abrupt switch to virtual instruction once students began to test positive for the virus. At the time of this publication, the school reported a 31 percent positive rate for the virus. This is a fate Queens is trying to avoid.
While there isn’t much worry about academics for this semester, Lugo says the wellbeing of the students is at risk. Because of isolation, the mental health of the students has the potential to be affected. What’s most important during this time, Lugo says, is to not lose connection.
“Engage. Use the technology to engage…We have to use this technology to make this world smaller, to get us more connected, and to lean into these classes and let your voice be heard and to listen to others.”
Students may not have to deal with Zoom classes for much longer. According to Lugo, there is a plan to return in the Spring.
“Our 100% intent is to invite students, faculty, and staff back to campus for the spring semester,” Lugo says. “We think by the spring semester we will have much better information and much better resources to support our students in a safe way and to bring our community back.”