Editorial: As the pandemic rages on, so do concerns over campus safety
As students and faculty reacclimate to a predominantly in-person semester, several members of this editorial board have raised concerns over pandemic safety on campus. Over the past month, many have witnessed both students and faculty become more relaxed in adhering to COVID-19 policies such as mask-wearing in shared spaces, truthfully filling out the daily health assessment and professors ensuring that students enter the classroom with a yellow or green passport. Additionally, many have questioned the effectiveness of the campus passport system and the risk associated with in-person lecture classes that hold 100 or more students in poorly-ventilated classrooms for over an hour. As the COVID-19 cases continue to rise in some areas across the country — including Waltham — it is more important than ever that all COVID-19 policies be reinforced or, in some cases, reviewed to ensure the safety of all those in the community.
Since the start of the semester, several members of this editorial board have experienced professors asking them or their classmates to remove their masks in order for the professor to hear their responses more clearly. We recognize that speaking with a mask can sometimes muffle words. However, in a shared space, taking one’s mask off, even for a few minutes, can make some individuals highly uncomfortable. When one considers the power dynamic between students and professors, it becomes apparent that some students might be uncomfortable denying their professors’ requests.
According to current Brandeis policies, masks are required in all indoor classes except language, theater, vocal performance and physical education classes. However, one can argue that these classes are where masks should be worn, considering that loud speaking and singing without a mask can increase respiratory droplets in the air. This, combined with some professors who rarely or never check students’ campus passports, leaves many in the classroom unaware of who is and is not up-to-date on their daily health assessment and COVID-19 testing. This board understands that checking campus passports may not be convenient for all professors due to their class sizes. However, checking campus passports is the only way professors and students can be sure that they are not exposed to COVID-19 during class time.
Additionally, students have begun to voice their concerns over the capacity of lecture classes.. Many are wondering why the hybrid modality is not being used frequently for classes of this size, not only for students and professors who are unable to attend class due to COVID-19 or other illnesses but also for those who are uncomfortable sitting in close proximity to so many students for long periods of time. While professors may not have control over the capacity limit of their classes, incorporating a hybrid modality for these large lecture hall classes would bring some flexibility and comfort to students and professors who are already experiencing significant discomfort due to the nature of these courses.
This board recognizes that the return to in-person classes is a learning experience for both students and faculty. However, with a year and a half of virtual learning and pandemic safety measures under our belt, some of the concerns raised in this editorial can be dealt with by referencing what has been done in previous semesters. Hybrid classes are no longer a novel phenomenon in higher education but rather a way to create flexible and comfortable classrooms for all students. As for professors who find it difficult to hear students with their masks on, this board suggests creating anonymous surveys to test the comfort level in the room before a student is instructed to remove their mask. Microphones are also useful, as they provide a middle ground for professors who have difficulty hearing their students and individuals who prefer to keep their masks on. While this post-pandemic normal can evoke a wide range of emotions, this editorial board wants to remind the Brandeis community that everyone’s safety is imperative for a smooth transition from virtual to in-person learning.