Student Association first-year senators hosted a town hall with parents and students to hear participants’ concerns about the virtual spring semester, a decision attendees said is causing “confusion and distress.”
Officials announced earlier this month that “most” graduate and all undergraduate courses will stay virtual for the spring semester. SA first-year undergraduate senators Jack Bloom, Charlene Richards and Yan Xu facilitated the Zoom meeting with more than 50 participants who voiced concerns about freshmen’s “serious” mental health issues, an “inadequate” financial aid response from officials and an overall poor commitment by the school to freshmen students, many of whom said they’re considering transferring to other schools.
Bloom said the town hall allowed the senators to update the community on information regarding the spring semester and hear concerns from their constituents to advocate on their behalf in the SA.
“It’s a bummer, but it’s pretty much a done deal that all undergraduate courses will be conducted online next semester,” he said. “That’s a decision made by the faculty and the administration is not going to change.”
Richards said housing options will still be available for students with “extenuating” circumstances, but plans for increasing the number of students on campus have not been announced yet.
“If we do advocate for ourselves and push for that option of on-campus housing for the spring semester, there is hope that things can change with adequate guidelines and safety protocols in place,” she said.
Participants said the lack of experience of being on campus and interacting with the GW community has caused freshmen in particular to feel “isolated” in the virtual learning environment because they have not created communities on campus. Multiple students said a lack of mental health resources offered by the University have further worsened their experience.
Freshman Treasure D’Souza said if they were on campus, the experience would give them an opportunity to make friends because freshmen are “lonely” and “really struggling” in the virtual setting. She said administrators did not send out a survey to ask students how they felt about returning to campus before making the decision – a survey students intended to receive – and officials settled on a virtual semester too soon.
“I don’t think that they could decide for the entire spring based on what is going on right now because things could change,” she said. “I think that was a big mistake on their part.”
A parent of a freshman said the decision to have a virtual spring semester was “simply an excuse,” and further action should have been taken by administrators to try present possible models of in-person instruction. She referred to institutions across the country, like the University of Michigan and Syracuse University, that are also holding virtual classes but with their students living on campus.
“I totally understand the fall, but they had five months to figure this out,” the mother said. “So to say that they probably won’t open in the spring when they could use the models that other schools used and were successful with – that’s pathetic.”
Syracuse University officials allowed students to move back to campus for the fall 2020 semester with face coverings enforced on the grounds and regular testing and with students ending the semester before Thanksgiving.
Freshman Brooke Stallman said she does not have any ties to GW because she has not lived on campus and therefore she and fellow freshmen have a bigger incentive to change schools.
“As freshmen, we have more opportunity to just switch to another school or defer or completely abandon GW, so I don’t really understand why they’re not doing more to try to hold on and retain those freshmen,” Stallman said.