Students disappointed with University's plan for a mostly remote winter semester

Sunday, November 8, 2020 - 7:05pm

University of Michigan President Mark S. Schlissel notified students of a new plan for the Winter 2021 semester Friday afternoon.

University of Michigan President Mark S. Schlissel notified students of a new plan for the Winter 2021 semester Friday afternoon. Buy this photo
Madeline Hinkley/Daily

Administration informed students of campus plans for the winter semester on Nov. 6 — days after the 14-day stay-in-place order ended and amid the ongoing stress of the 2020 election.

In the announcement, University of Michigan President Mark S. Schlissel outlined a plan that includes an increase in both asymptomatic testing and remote classes.

The announcement indicates that students living in dorms will not have their housing contracts renewed for winter semester except for pressing circumstances, with dorm rooms moving to single occupancy. All students were encouraged to remain at their permanent residence if possible.

LSA freshman Macy Hannan said she and some of her friends were looking for an off-campus apartment, but that supply was limited. Hannan said she felt the University has gone “too far.” Hannan also worried that some of the friendships she made this semester would be negatively impacted by the plan for next semester.

“Community-wise, I feel like people will be more isolated in their bubbles next semester,” Hannan said. “I feel like a lot of huge community aspects, like the few in-person things you’re supposed to go to or just talking to neighbors in the hall are going to disappear without the dorms. So many of your friendships are just random ones that you make walking to the elevator or brushing your teeth.”  

Ayden Makar, an LSA freshman living in South Quad Residence Hall, said he hoped next semester would be better, but he wasn’t surprised by the University’s decision. Makar, an in-state student, said he will be living at home next semester and was worried about “FOMO” (fear of missing out) and adjusting to living at home after having a taste of college. He also said he thought asymptomatic testing should have started fall semester. 

“I was really confused as to why we’re just now implementing asymptomatic testing for next semester,” Makar said. “I have friends at other schools like Ohio State, another big public university, where they get tested weekly, and it’s mandatory. I was curious as to know why we didn’t implement that beforehand.”

Alison Roberson, another LSA freshman and South Quad resident, said she was “shocked” by the plan for next semester. Roberson stated she returned home a month into the fall semester, but intended to come back next semester. Roberson said she was disappointed by the decision but that she felt it was the right decision, even though she felt “kind of just sad.”

“Even though we’re all disappointed, I think that it is the right decision.” Roberson said. “But I do think that they had to make that decision impulsively because of a lack of safety that they took in the first semester. First semester, I thought the way U of M was handling COVID was kind of bizarre because we were told that they were going to take safety precautions and they were not up to par with other universities.” 

Jennifer Rayman, class of 1994 and a mother of a freshman living in a dorm this semester, said she felt “betrayed” and “blindsided” by the University. She also expressed concerns as an alum that the University isn’t doing enough to support undergraduates during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of Monday afternoon, more than 800 parents of University students have signed an open letter criticizing the University's handling of fall semester and its plans for winter semester.

“As an alum myself I cannot believe these are the actions of the place I used to call home,” Rayman said. “The experience my child is having seems to not be a fraction of the one I have had and (the University has) perpetuated this situation... (The dining experience) has been despicable. Mental health? (The University) has done literally nothing for the isolated students.”

Soneida Rodriguez, a resident adviser and LSA senior, said she’s been experiencing anxiety after her family lost their home during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and keeping her job as an RA was “high stakes” for her. 

Rodriguez also said she felt the precautions for next semester are “in the right direction” and should have been implemented earlier, but also maintained the importance of having on-campus housing options. She said students should have a “seat at the table” when decisions are being made.

“I think if nothing else, this pandemic has revealed the importance of having student voices heard, giving students a seat at the table, especially student staff members.” Rodriguez said. “Because at the end of the day, all of these decisions, and the lack of response could have been prevented if students had a seat at the table. Students could have helped the University respond in real time to the issues that we were seeing like a lack of testing and enforcement of social distancing and other safety measures.”

In an interview with The Daily Monday, University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel said he does not regret choosing to make classes in-person for the fall semester.

"I think that we deserved as a community a chance to try our very best to have a good mix of remote, in-person and hybrid classes, and to have as many people as possible remain healthy and make it through the end of the semester,” Schlissel said. “Most people were successful at doing this and some groups were less successful at doing this. So I don't regret trying. The world keeps changing in the setting of the pandemic, it's novel. We've never been through this before as a university. Although the basic principles are clear about how to prevent transmission, we didn't know until we tried to figure out how our community would respond, how much compliance we would get, where the weak points turned out to be.”

Overall, the announcement brings drastic changes for many students living on campus. Engineering freshman Ashwin Saxena said he now has to pack up his dorms in the middle of midterms.

“The announcement about the winter semester really throws off everything,” Saxena said. “I think the University’s decision to bring us back this semester was not well thought out and the two-week lockdown was necessary. Personally, I would be sad that I won’t be able to come back, but I realize this decision is important for the health of the community.”

Daily Staff Reporters Jared Dougall and Kaitlyn Luckoff can be reached at jdougall@umich.edu and kluckoff@umich.edu

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown challenges at all of us — including The Michigan Daily — but that hasn’t stopped our staff. We’re committed to reporting on the issues that matter most to the community where we live, learn and work. Your donations keep our journalism free and independent. You can support our work here.

For a weekly roundup of the best stories from The Michigan Daily, sign up for our newsletter here.