Isaac Hoops / Nevada Sagebrush

Isaac Hoops / Nevada Sagebrush
The Student Health Center as it stands on Monday, Feb. 4. Student and professor discuss their thoughts on returning to campus this semester.

Although third-year political science student Justin Littleford feels safe coming back onto campus this fall, he doesn’t have much confidence in the University of Nevada, Reno as a whole.

“The only reason that I’m going back is because of ROTC reasons,” Littleford said to the Nevada Sagebrush in a Twitter message. “Otherwise, I would just stay home and do online classes as that is the majority of what college is now. The atmosphere is going to be completely different now.”

Littleford is one of many UNR students who understand how university life will change as the COVID-19 pandemic continues throughout the U.S. Currently, the U.S. has approximately 5.17 million confirmed cases and 165,000 deaths, according to the New York Times. In Nevada, the Department of Health and Human Services Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health reported the state has 57,745 total cases.

President Marc Johnson announced in a mass student email how the university will go forward with reopening campus this fall, rather than adopting fully remote learning, on Thursday, July 16. 

“I think cases are going to skyrocket because over 10,000 [students] are coming back to school and with such an influx, cases are naturally going to increase,” Littleford said.

As of Aug. 25, UNR has confirmed 44 students, faculty and staff members between June and August have contracted COVID-19.

Cheryl Hug-English, medical director of the Student Health Center, said SHC is offering daily testing Monday through Friday mornings by appointment only and says the clinic has “adequate testing capacity.”

“Testing is available for anyone currently experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and anyone who has been close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19,” Hug-English said. “In order to access testing it is important to call the Student Health Center for a scheduled appointment time.”

Hug-English said SHC now offers testing from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for both students and faculty.

She also urged students, faculty or staff members who are feeling ill with severe symptoms such as difficulty breathing, significant and persistent chest pain, confusion, or bluish coloring of lips or face should seek care at one of the local hospital emergency departments.

PROFESSORS

Alison Gaulden is a professor for the Reynolds School of Journalism who teaches public relations and advertising courses. She believes it is unwise to open the university for the fall semester.

“College-aged People Across the country have demonstrated a lack of caution or strict adherence to quarantine, mask-wearing and hand-washing,” Gaulden said. “It is unrealistic to think Generally most UNR students will be any different.”

Gaulden doesn’t feel safe coming back onto campus teaching. 

“…Both Clark, Washoe in Nevada as well as California have not reached the required outbreak decreases recommended by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention],” Gaulden said in an email to the Nevada Sagebrush. “The university is not being transparent about the revenue impact if students take a gap semester; the administration seems to be focusing on the sustainability of the university and jobs, not true safety of students and faculty.”

She said she understands why the university is pushing to reopen, but is risking safety. Gaulden explained how they appear so risk-averse as to require contracts for liability for interns or push Greek life off-campus.

“The revenue projection from triple occupancy dorms, International student fees and sports boosted revenue must be a tremendous loss,” Gaulden said. “The university administration is not forthcoming about what those losses mean for each college’s experience.”

Melissa Burnham is a professor for Human Development and Family Studies within the College of Education and the vice president of Nevada Faculty Alliance. She expressed mixed feelings regarding the university’s reopening plans.

“It just seems too soon to be bringing students back to campus en masse, even with safety protocols in place,” Burnham said in an email to the Nevada Sagebrush. “I worry about the health of our students and our faculty. One of the most dangerous places to be during this pandemic, according to the World Health Organization, is a contained space for a prolonged period of time.”

Burnham said she understands the university is doing the best it can under the circumstances but said she wouldn’t have made that decision herself. She does admit how she doesn’t feel safe coming back onto campus. Burnham described feeling “sick” learning about the number of cases at UNR already.

“I was lucky to have my FFCRA request for remote work approved,” Burnham said. “So, all of my classes will be ‘alternative remote’ … There are signs all around my building, but signs are not going to govern behavior. Anyone on campus should really be treating everyone else as if they have COVID-19. That just doesn’t feel like the campus experience that I know and love.”

Burnham also said the way she teaches her classes will have to adjust.

“I knew how much work it took to keep students engaged on Zoom from the end of the spring semester,” Burnham said. “We had a lot of chat activity and used breakout rooms regularly. Trying to do all of that while trying to keep my in-person students engaged just seemed impossible, especially given my class sizes. Because of the spring experience, I feel a lot more confident.” 

Burnham said she hopes everyone will reflect on the gravity of this moment and makes a plan for self-care.

“There is nothing normal about this semester’s college experience,” Burnham said. “It’s important for us to maintain a sense of community even though we can’t all be together as desired. And it’s important to remember to give each other grace, take care of ourselves, and reach out if we need help.”

Through another interview, Burnham revealed there are six possible categories that someone could petition and be eligible to petition for teaching fully online, but claims the paperwork required is a physician’s note, which states the professor has a condition that warrants you to be teaching from home. She said the university asked their faculty, as a soft deadline, to submit their letter by July 1. 

STUDENTS

Sierra Batrin is a fourth-year journalism student who is expecting to graduate spring 2021. She said she feels very anxious about the university’s reopening plans. 

She fears her academic experience will take a heavy toll. As someone who is registered with the Disability Resource Center, she said she has experienced several semesters where her disability has impaired her ability to perform at 100% in the classroom. 

“I have a very hard time connecting to the material and staying focused when trying to finish assignments on my own time,” Batrin said. “Taking courses online in the past has proven much more difficult than when I can have a face-to-face conversation with my instructor to make sure that I’m confident in what I know.”

Batrin also fears coming home from school as she lives with her domestic partner who is immunocompromised. 

“I worry that if I come back to campus I may be unknowingly spreading the virus—even with the precautionary policies in place,” Batrin said to the Nevada Sagebrush on Twitter. “I am also concerned about students who may not ‘believe’ in the threat presented by the COVID-19 virus, those who will continue to congregate at off-campus functions … like parties … and those who will actively decide not to get tested because of fears over financial conditions—like having to leave work.”

Batrin is also a first-generation student who had to work to finance basic necessities like groceries, gas, phone and credit card bills, but feels she has now missed on social opportunities that were once offered on campus.

“I feel like [I] missed out on a great deal of opportunities to engage with my peers—like participating in [Joe Crowley Student Union] events, clubs and sporting events,” Batrin said. “Now, because I’m a senior during COVID, I feel like I’m not going to get another opportunity to do those things before I graduate.” 

She also expressed alarm regarding confirmed cases on campus since she understands there could be other students and faculty who are asymptomatic carriers. 

“I am expressly concerned about the health and safety of students and staff in the residence halls,” Batrin said. “While I understand that it would be nearly, if not absolutely, impossible to close residence halls during in-person instruction, the fact that students will still be sharing rooms with people they haven’t had contact with during the 2020 pandemic turns my stomach.”

Batrin urged students to follow the university’s new guidelines. 

“Please, do not sacrifice the loved ones of those around you for the sake of convenience,” Batrin said.

Brooklyn Darmody, a senior studying education, said she had to find out about the university’s opening plans herself. She said she feels the university is “setting themselves up for their own failure” along with the failure of their students.

“I think that freshmen will be most affected, as they are not as experienced with Canvas and UNR’s resources to help make college easier for themselves,” Darmody said in an email to the Nevada Sagebrush. “There is only so much an orientation can do, let alone an online orientation done from home.”

In other circumstances, Darmody revealed she would be completing a 40-hour practicum in a high school during the fall, and half a full-time internship in the spring before she graduates. 

“I now have to pay attention to not only what UNR is saying and doing, but also WCSD, who have said that we will not be allowed into classrooms,” Darmody said. “This changes everything, and now instructors and students must adapt and find a way to best prepare us for our teaching careers when what we need most is experience.” 

Darmody explained how she believes COVID-19 will change how we operate as a society. 

“This virus has shown how much work can be done from the comfort of our homes, and how much technology has advanced, Darmody said. “It is crucial that all students work on their technological soft skills, such as proper email etiquette and computer proficiency, as we are only going to rely more and more on the internet to communicate and do business.”

Taylor Johnson can be reached at tkjohnson@nevada.unr.edu or on Twitter @taylorkendyll.