For the very first time since classes were moved to remote platforms on March 10, 2020, all students of West Chester University convened for in-person classes last Monday, Aug. 30, 2021, commencing the start of the Fall 2021 semester.
Since the closure of campus approximately a year and a half ago, the task of bringing students back to campus safely has been a priority and a task that has required many adjustments and revisions as the country continues its grapple with the virus.
As it stands, students attending in-person classes are strongly encouraged to get one of the COVID-19 vaccines, which became available across Pennsylvania in April of 2021. Students who are vaccinated are asked to upload their vaccine card, which also serves as an entry for three scholarships to be awarded at the end of the month.
“Students who update their vaccination records will be entered in a random scholarship drawing held in September,” the WCU website states. “The scholarship amounts are two $2,500 scholarships and one $5,000 scholarship.”
English professor and West Chester President of the Association of Pennsylvania and State College & University Faculties (ASPCUF), Dr. Margaret Ervin, mentioned that the faculty union will soon be holding their own scholarship drawings, as well.
According to Dr. Ervin, two $2000 scholarships will be made available from the faculty union, and those eligible to win are “anyone who has completed their two-vaccination sequence at the campus clinic by Thanksgiving.” As Ervin’s executive committee continues to finalize plans for the APSCUF scholarship drawings, more information will be made public.
According to WCU Provost, approximately 9,900 of the 17,600 students at WCU have submitted documentation of their COVID-19 vaccination to the MyWCU database.
The data taken by the Provost has found that 63.8% of 15,564 WCU students with at least one day of in-person attendance have indicated that they are vaccinated with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Unvaccinated students, both on-campus and commuting, though still encouraged to get the immunization, are asked to submit themselves to randomized COVID-19 testing which takes place daily in Asplundh Concert Hall.
All students regardless of vaccination status are required to wear masks indoors while on campus and are asked to wear them outdoors where social distancing is impossible. As of Sept. 9, there were 140 active cases among the student body, including 14 breakthrough cases from students already vaccinated.
However, West Chester President Christopher Fiorentino remains firm in his commitment to keeping classes face-to-face and not switching back to remote instruction, stating that, “the data we are reviewing do not indicate that we are anywhere near the point of considering such options.”
Throughout the first week of classes, a senior student found it unusual that all of her professors in the Business and Public Management building had not been wearing their masks indoors. She mentioned that her professors have been either standing behind a podium and/or plastic screen barriers in the large lecture halls.
According to instructions from Provost, “All faculty, staff, students, and visitors, regardless of vaccination status, are required to wear a mask which covers their nose and mouth when indoors.” However, the policy also states that professors have the option to remove their masks if they can maintain at least three feet of distance within the classroom.
In addition to vaccination data and mask mandates, the university has decided to implement fans in each classroom to help circulate the air and decrease the risk of particles floating in the air and causing airborne transmission of COVID-19.
A campus that was close to barren only months ago is now a regular hub of activity, with students and faculty meeting with each other once more, this time under the guise of a space altered by an ongoing global pandemic.
“I was walking across campus today watching students talking and walking, overhearing snatches of conversation that were so normal… where to eat, where to park, how classes were going,” said Dr. Ervin. “Despite all the anxiety of going indoors with my KN95 mask on, worried about the Delta variant, the scenes of students enjoying each other’s company on a beautiful day really bring joy to my heart.”
Dr. Edward Lordan, a professor in the communications department of WCU, also shared that, though stressful, the ability to host classes in person once again brings back an element of campus culture that many may have been missing.
“Overall, it’s always about the little moments,” Lordan shared. “The small conversations in the halls between class, the funny response somebody gives to a question that gets the whole classroom laughing. That’s back, and that’s very, very, very rewarding.”
Lordan also mentioned that this has been a testament to the hard work and determination of the WCU administration as they regularly surveyed the course of the virus across the world for the last year and a half and developed the university’s plan accordingly.
Dr. Seth Kahn, a professor of English at WCU, gave credit to administration and the faculty union as well for the work that was done to make the return to campus feasible, and spoke to the subsequent drive, shared by many campus dwellers, to do things the right way and keep each other safe.
“I think people are largely stressed out because they want to do it right…There are a lot of us out here and I would like for us all to be watching out for each other,” Kahn said.
Kahn then summarized his observation that the campus population’s outlook regarding COVID-19 greatly reflects the outlook that the nation has as a whole, with many wanting to do the right thing, and some being a bit more “cavalier”.
“I guess it’s really not that big of a surprise,” stated Kahn. “If you’re not that worried about yourself, you’re probably not going to be very worried about other people either.”
As the campus population continues to navigate this first semester back on campus since the global pandemic began, one that lies outside the conventions of any other semester in WCU history, the University has stood firm in their desire to make the right decisions for students, faculty and staff alike.
“The main thing the Faculty union wants is for everyone to be safe,” said Dr. Ervin. “But we also don’t want to lose sight of how happy students are to be back together, and how happy the faculty are to see them.”
For updated information on the number of student vaccinations and COVID-19 cases daily, visit https://www.wcupa.edu/healthNotices/covidDashboard.aspx