Some students and faculty at Ithaca College have expressed varying levels of concern about the potential for the spread of COVID-19 in the classroom, as the college begins its return to in-person classes.
After students were not allowed to return from spring break in Spring 2020 because of the spread of COVID-19, classes continued remotely. Fall 2020 was completely remote with online classes and Spring 2021 was back in person but with hybrid classes. Most classes that are currently being offered for Fall 2021 are in-person and operating normally. Students are wearing masks but there is little to no social distancing in place and classrooms are back to full capacity after there were guidelines regarding both in place the previous semester.
Cyndy Scheibe, professor in the Department of Psychology, said she is teaching three in-person classes this semester, two of which have approximately 90 students each.
Scheibe said she is not particularly worried about the spread of COVID-19, despite the lack of social distancing and the large number of students in her class because the student vaccination rate is so high, and all her students are wearing their masks properly.
“For me, I feel like this is the very best we can do, and I know my students are learning better in person,” she said. “Is it ideal? No, it’s not, but compared to learning on Zoom, I would take this in a heartbeat.”
Hybrid instruction is no longer officially being offered this semester. However, some faculty have made the decision to provide a hybrid option for their students, or have pivoted to strictly online instruction. According to Homer Connect, 58 classes are being taught online for the fall semester.
Senior Ilya Rake said that one of his classes is being held online this semester, but that he chose the class because it was originally going to be in person. He said he is a very hands-on learner and didn’t feel like he learned anything from his online classes last semester.
“It was such a muffled, dampened version of what I could’ve actually obtained if we had been in person and taken those classes the regular way,” he said.
Some students and faculty have said they feel worried over the lack of social distancing in classrooms and the use of the badge system for daily health screenings. There are currently 21 active student cases and one active employee case, according to the college’s COVID-19 dashboard.
Junior Brianna Diaz said she has two online classes and three in-person classes. She said she only has one professor who asks to see students’ badges from the daily health screenings but is happy to be in person after experiencing Zoom fatigue last semester.
“It’s definitely comfortable as of right now,” she said. “Before I was still freaking out because I’m like, ‘Oh my god,’ you know, we’re all together in one classroom, you know, one big lecture hall and we’re not social distancing.”
Belisa Gonzalez, professor in the Department of Sociology, said she still worries about her children at home, who are too young to be vaccinated, but does not feel unsafe teaching in person this semester.
“I would just follow the science on this one, you know, if the recommendations from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)] say that we don’t have to be socially distant, then I’m willing to let them do their jobs,” she said.
Gonzalez said she has not required any of her students to show their green badges due to the time constraint of her 50-minute classes. However, she said she is willing to be open and flexible to policy changes as the semester continues.
“Safety should, you know, be the first priority, and if the CDC changes their guidelines, I absolutely think we should figure something else out and I will be happy to adjust,” she said.
Junior Madeline Miele said two out of the five classes she is taking this semester are online. She said that still having a couple of online classes has been nice for easing back to in-person learning and that both professors are not currently living in Ithaca.
“It obviously stinks with being back and having the campus be mostly open, under the precautions,” Miele said. “But for those specific situations, it’s understandable, like they can’t control it.”
Praneeta Mudaliar, assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences, said she traveled home to India in November 2020 because of a family emergency and planned to come back the following summer. She said she is not allowed to return to the U.S. because of a travel ban from India that went into effect last spring and is currently teaching her classes for the fall semester online.
Mudaliar said students and green card holders traveling from India are allowed to enter the U.S. but that she feels stuck as she cannot return to the U.S. because she is on a work visa.
“It was so anxiety-inducing at first because my job is in the U.S. and everyone’s doing in-person classes and I’m here doing online,” she said. “It’s like a sense that the pandemic is never going to get over.”
Mudaliar said she feels bad that her students must continue to learn on Zoom.
“I would make a terrible student if I had to learn on Zoom, so I really applaud all our students for doing such a fine job,” she said. “They come to my classes, they all show up, they all participate, so that’s something that keeps me going.”