JMU shuts down campus, org wants UVa to do the same

Illustration by Noelle Hepworth

Eduardo Acevedo, News Editor

As one Virginia university closes its doors in response to a 500-case COVID-19 outbreak, an organization is calling on the University of Virginia to reverse its reopening plans. 

A petition with more than 200 signatures from the United Campus Workers of Virginia union, or UCWVA, demands that the university stop its in-person classes and enforce workers’ rights. The group is also urging UVa to defund and dismantle its police department and express support for unions.

The organization called UVa’s decision to reopen its campus a “disastrous reopening plan for the Fall semester” in a Friday release.

UCWVA’s demands for UVa

  • Ensure that online teaching is accessible and equitable
  • Enact a firing and tuition freeze and end the hiring freeze
  • Provide hazard pay for all workers who must work in person and compensate undergraduate workers for pay loss 
  • Expand healthcare benefits, including free and accessible COVID-19 testing for all workers
  • Provide protections and virtual options for disabled and high-risk workers
  • Enforce whistleblower protections
  • Protect international and undocumented workers

With more than 500 positive COVID-19 cases, James Madison University has shifted to online classes for four weeks while they “monitor health trends and other developments,” according to a statement.

JMU President Jonathan Alger said in the release that university officials would “be in touch with the campus community” by Sept. 25 to determine if a return to in-person instruction would be possible.

As of Sept. 1, UVa reported 127 total positive COVID-19 cases among students and employees. UVa decided to delay reopening campus until Sept. 8 while the university surveyed virus prevalence. Online classes began Aug. 25.  

A member of UCWVA’s steering committee, Rosa Hamilton, said public colleges and university employees are frustrated with the lack of transparency and the “disempowerment of their voices.”

“Workers are looking for a way to unite their voices and speak to the issues that matter to them,” Hamilton said. 

The pandemic, a looming recession and racial injustice were some of the crises and issues Hamilton referenced.

Hamilton said UCWVA expects to make an impact by organizing and demanding UVa stop its in-person instruction, but the group’s vision is long-term. The organization plans to expand into other universities in the upcoming year.

“We’re not going anywhere, and we’re just getting started building the community of care and solidarity which can get big wins for workers across lines of gender, race, class, employment category, age, religion and citizenship status,” Hamilton said.

As VCU continues to report new COVID-19 cases, Carmelita Garza, a freshman communication arts major, believes the university will keep students on campus as long as possible in order to maintain profits.

“I definitely think they would protect their money,” Garza said. “We’ve already had cases here but we’re still out and about like nothing’s happened.”

Garza thinks that if a student feels unsafe on campus, they should have the option to take their classes completely online because “their health is the most important thing.”

Freshman elementary education major Caroline O’Connors thinks VCU’s decision regarding in-person instruction and COVID-19 cases will be to save its public image.

“They’re going to do whatever will cause them the least amount of backlash. If that makes the people happy, they’ll do it.” — Caroline O’Connors, freshman elementary education major

“We recognize that this is an uncertain time for our community,” read an Aug. 24 university release signed by VCU President Michael Rao. “But if we all commit to working together to follow guidelines … we can help to limit the spread of COVID-19 at VCU.”

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