Hey admin, why are we still in person?

Implications of in-person learning during the rapid spread of Omicron

Cambria Judd-Babbitt, Guest Writer

SPU COVID-19 case numbers as of January 19th, 2021 (Seattle Pacific University)

Believe me when I say that I dislike online school as much as the next person.

The awkward pauses in Zoom classes, easy distractions that made it hard to actually focus on learning materials, spotty internet connection. You name it, I probably hate it.

However, with COVID-19 cases continuing to spike in Seattle and at Seattle Pacific University (see the SPU COVID chart where there is a visible spike for January—and these are still only the cases that have been self-reported to the SPU Health center…), it seems ridiculous to me that we are putting students and staff at risk every day for the sake of saying, ‘We are making it through Omicron.’

I was honestly shocked when SPU sent out the announcement that we would resume classes in person as normal on Monday, Jan. 10 given that Seattle University prudently decided to remain online longer for the sake of safety and limiting the spread of this disease. In addition, while providing options for in-person, the University of Washington has strongly encouraged instructors to keep courses online. For such schools who have started to transition to online in some capacity, there have been accommodations for online learning made to support students and faculty.

Science and research have proven time and time again that this variant spreads more rapidly than what we have seen in the past (almost) two years of this pandemic. We should not be making members of the SPU community show up every day for classes where there is a constant fear of getting this virus, or fear of losing valuable education if we decide to do the right thing and stay home if we have symptoms.

If the concern about going back online is the quality of education, let me tell you as a student, this situation is not at all better.

At least a quarter of my classmates have been out every day of classes thus far, either sick or quarantining. Now students and professors alike are stuck scrambling to figure out, ‘What now?’ as it feels like our education is falling by the wayside. By continuing to mandate in-person classes, without even allowing for online options, students are forced to make a tough decision. They can either come to school and put themselves at higher risk, or stay home if they are even feeling remotely sick at the risk of missing important course material, which may negatively impact their grades.

Although the SPU COVID-19 Planning Committee sent updated protocols for what to do when sick or exposed on Friday, Jan. 14, there are still no enforceable accountability measures in place to keep someone from coming to classes anyways. This is not enough to solve the ongoing issue of continued in-person learning at full capacity.

In-person at this point in time does not have more educational value than online, as it is still hard to focus on learning now when we hear the student two seats away from us coughing up a storm under their mask, or having to step out of the classroom to pull down our masks to take a sip of water. If the argument is that online is worse for learning, I would say this does not hold up in our current circumstances.

Further, our professors are being put in a difficult position of having to navigate ways to ensure that all their students are learning despite so many being out of the classroom for various COVID-19 and sickness-related reasons. They are being asked to either put on a Zoom call during class for those who cannot make it, which is an added pressure on them and their planning in an already stressful time, or to let students scramble to make up by getting notes from classmates when they can.

This is in no way sustainable or beneficial to the education of our students. It also puts professors and their families at risk as they continue to show up for work every day knowing they will be in a room full of college students who are living in communal dorms and are part of the population that has been proven to have higher exposure as young college students.

So, administration, why are we continuing to do this day-in and day-out as a pandemic still looms over us?

This virus is far from contained, and I believe that as a Christian institution, it is part of our calling to love on our community by keeping them safe and respecting their health. One way we can do this is by taking the proper measures necessary to reduce risk.

Unfortunately, this has become a controversial issue in the Christian community during the pandemic, which has led to choices between reason and faith. However, I believe faith and science go hand-in-hand, and it is up to us to listen to the facts and respond appropriately as stewards of this community.

Any one of the science professors at SPU will tell you that faith and science are not mutually exclusive, but rather work in tandem to help us better understand the world and God’s working in it. Ignoring the science and reality of the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, and still choosing to put students and staff at harm, is not what I believe to be a good demonstration of Christian love and stewardship.

So please, SPU admin, I ask you out of the love you have for our students and community to let us stay home and be safe. Stop making us choose between health and education and instead allow us to have both by permitting online options for classes. Look to the rest of Seattle higher education and follow their lead in taking the proper measures to keep our campus safe.

I am tired of wincing at every cough I hear in my classes and watching my classmates ask around for notes to try to get some grasp of what went on during class while they were being responsible and isolating. This is the last pressure we need in these already ‘unprecedented times.’