Sahara Sriraman, Contributing Writer
Freshman graphic design student Ariadna Perez couldn’t have been happier about VCU’s decision to resume in-person classes on March 4, she said. Like most VCUarts students in virtual classes this semester, it was difficult for Perez to stay on top of assignments.
“I physically need to be there, or I literally won’t do the work,” Perez said.
Assignments in Perez’s surface research class are physical, which she said helps her learn the material effectively.
“Before it just felt like doing busy work,” Perez said. “Now I feel like we’re doing actual, important, engaging projects.”
It has been nearly a month since VCU announced its return to in-person learning on Feb. 18. The decision was met with excitement from some and concerns of COVID-19 from others.
VCU has reported 416 new COVID-19 cases this year. More than 40 active cases among students and seven cases among employees were reported as of Tuesday, according to university data.
Everett Carpenter, director of the physics department’s nanoscience and nanotechnology program, wrote a letter to President Michael Rao on Feb. 24 on behalf of VCU’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors. He expressed concerns in the statement regarding the return to in-person learning amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“It just seemed to be confusing, and part of the reason it seemed confusing was they didn’t involve us in the decision making,” Carpenter said. “We wrote the letter to highlight that.”
Carpenter, who holds a doctorate in inorganic chemistry, said having the return at a different time, such as after midterms or after the spring minimester, would have solved some of the confusion.
“Our chapter has always maintained that there are some courses which the only way they meet the educational outcomes is in person,” Carpenter said.
Justin Alexander, assistant music professor and director of percussion studies, said the students in his performance-based percussion ensemble class were thrilled to return to in-person learning.
“I was actually surprised the first time we met how jovial everyone was and how excited they were to be back in the same room,” Alexander said.
Although the class of 12 to 15 performers used to play together, they now meet in small groups of two or three to ensure student safety, Alexander said.
“Even though we’re meeting in person, it’s not exactly what it was before,” Alexander said.
Although his students were excited to be back in the classroom, it was difficult for them to adjust to playing together again after a year at home, Alexander said.
“The students are just having to get back into the rhythm, not to say a pun, of actually playing together with each other again, listening to each other, instead of just playing solo,” Alexander said.
VCU spokesperson Michael Porter stated in an email that the return to in-person learning has gone well. The university considered COVID-19 positivity rates on campus and in Richmond, the amount of quarantine and hospital space available and the amount of available on-campus testing before deciding to reopen.
“As the VCU COVID-19 dashboard shows, the trends continue to be favorable,” Porter stated.
“The increasing availability of vaccinations is another positive factor.”
Porter stated that VCU “did not receive a great deal of feedback” from students, employees or parents regarding the return to in-person learning.