VCU students contemplate August return to campus

VCU will be opening up its campus for the Fall 2020 semester on August 17. Photo by Jon Mirador

Sanjana Ravulapalli, Contributing Writer

VCU is slated to reopen on Aug. 17 for the first time since an abrupt closure during spring break, but between rising COVID-19 cases and the option to take some classes online, some students are contemplating their return to campus.

Adam El-Zoobi, an incoming freshman business major, has one class with an in-person component this semester and decided to live on campus. In the meantime, he’s monitoring VCU’s response to the virus.

“In the scenario my classes are completely online, I’m leaning towards keeping my housing, given that I would still like the ‘college experience’ of living away from home,” El-Zoobi said.

El-Zoobi said he is concerned that students and others on campus might not take the threat of the virus seriously, but he still prefers in-person learning.

“I believe with proper social distancing techniques and other virus prevention methods, there should be no reason not to have a modified version of in-person classes,” El-Zoobi said.

President Michael Rao released an updated message on July 14 explaining safety measures for the fall 2020 semester. These include online training for faculty, staff and students on safety protocols and “daily attestations of health” which must be submitted on VCU’s Daily Health Monitoring website

“Even if my classes are online, I’ll have to go out to get groceries and stuff and I don’t know how that’s gonna be in the city at a time like this. By being at home, I’m going to be able to do a lot more like go on walks and stuff with less of a risk,” – Sanika Lawate, pre-health psychology major

Faculty, staff, and students will be provided with a “back-to-campus” kit with cloth masks, hand sanitizer, and other personal protective supplies. Students will be able to pick up kits at several campus locations.

 

Sanika Lawate, a rising senior and pre-health psychology major, said she does not plan on returning to campus in the fall, but she is keeping her dorm because she worries about access to housing during the spring semester.

“If my professors decide that classes are going to be online then I’m probably not going to go back,” Lawate said.

All of Lawate’s classes were then scheduled for online instruction, so she decided not to return to campus and complete them from home.

If the “situation with coronavirus improves” –– such as lower case numbers, better treatment options and relaxed rules –– Lawate said she wanted the option of living on campus.

Normally, students can break their housing contract if they submit a cancellation request within five business days of receiving their housing assignment. Given COVID-19 concerns and online course options, students could cancel housing contracts before July 20 if they chose not to return to campus. Students with online-only courses can still live on campus.

Lawate said she doesn’t feel comfortable returning to a dorm and in-person learning because she doesn’t know if her roommates and classmates will be following COVID-19 guidelines. She said the suburban environment of her home is better than the city in regards to her mental health.

“Even if my classes are online, I’ll have to go out to get groceries and stuff and I don’t know how that’s gonna be in the city at a time like this,” Lawate said. “By being at home, I’m going to be able to do a lot more like go on walks and stuff with less of a risk.”

Students who will live on campus must test negative for COVID-19 before moving in. VCU will provide test kits at no additional cost for students living on campus, non-residential students and employees. 

The One VCU website states asymptomatic students and employees can receive “at-will” testing at a cost to be determined. The site will be updated during the summer with additional plans for symptomatic and asymptomatic testing. 

VCU also plans to give continued access to mental health resources, such as university counseling services and after-hours crisis support for students and employees. Further details about the upcoming semester can be found on the VCU COVID-19 page.

Classes are being offered in four models: Online, in-person, hybrid, and blended.

VCU spokesperson Mike Porter said 50% of fall semester courses are in-person, 33% are fully online, 12% are hybrid and 5% are blended. 

In-person classes will be taught in a physical location on campus while online courses will be taught completely online with no in-person component.

Hybrid classes will have a minimum of 30% of instruction time completed in-person. Blended classes will have 1-29% of instruction time completed in person. Hybrid and blended classes labeled as “flexible” will livestream the in-person lectures and can be taken fully online if the student prefers, according to the Division of Strategic Enrollment Management’s Course Modality website.

How to check your course modality:

  • Login to eServices 
  • Click on the “Student” tab
  • Click on the “Registration” menu
  • Select “Student Detail Schedule”
  • Under each course, the “scheduled meeting time” lists “course taught online” or the course’s meeting time and place.
  • Tip: if you’re unsure where your course building is located, search the building name on maps.vcu.edu 

Kayla Khau, a senior in the dental hygiene program, said her training includes seeing patients on MCV campus. Khau said she is concerned she might bring the coronavirus back to her dorm after working in the health care system, but feels that it is “highly unlikely.”

“I’ve been concerned because I work in health care, but when I’m at school we are in full gown and PPE, so I feel like I’m doing okay on my part,” Khau said. 

Khau said she is not comfortable returning to on-campus instruction, but feels she “doesn’t really have a choice.”

“If they say we have to do it, then we have to, because we’re on a tight schedule to graduate,” Khau said.

VCU has created several online resources for students to find information and prepare for the fall semester. These include Keep on Learning, a start-of-the-semester how-to guide and return to campus training.

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