Perspectives: How My University is Handling the Pandemic

A student who returned to Chatham University says her school did three things well and could have done three things better.
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This is my fourth year at Chatham and final semester as an undergraduate. I study English and though I’m a little skeptical of some of the university’s choices, I am grateful to be a student there. Currently, I live in an off-campus apartment and attend class in-person one day a week.

Could have done better:

  1. Should have given students the option to do fully remote classes. To qualify for remote classes, students had to have a medical excuse. This caused a lot of frustration for students who live with at-risk family members or just want to be cautious. Also some teachers opted to teach virtual classes anyway leaving students with disjointed schedules. Many students didn’t know that they would be fully remote until a couple weeks before the move-in date. All classes will move to a virtual format after Thanksgiving break so even those staying on campus won’t have a full semester in the dorms.
  2. Actually enforce the daily symptom check. Everyone is supposed to stop by one of the symptom check stations before going into campus buildings for the day. You get your temperature checked with a thermometer gun, the attendant asks if you can read the sign listing all the symptoms and you get a little card with the date on it. No one is checking for these cards before people enter buildings and there are no consequences if someone refuses to get their temperature taken.
  3. Switching to a new online Learning Management System. The system is where professors post all course documents such as the syllabus, weekly readings, discussion forums and Zoom links. Students also can submit assignments and take quizzes or tests through this platform. Previously we used a system called Moodle for that, but a few weeks before school started, Chatham announced that everything would switch to Brightspace. While it was far from a smooth transition, there were fewer technical issues than I expected. The faculty did a fantastic job navigating the new site, I’ve had many teachers reach out to ask if everything is visible to students. Our library search system was also updated. It’s comparable to using Google all your life and then switching to Internet Explorer.

Did Well

  1. Everyone wears a mask. I was particularly worried about this before returning to the Shadyside campus, but I feel really safe in that regard. During my first three weeks back, I’ve only seen one person in a large group not wearing one and that was outside.
  2. Great communication skills. Chatham sends out a lot of emails, to the point where some students say it is overdoing it. But it came in handy this fall. We get a weekly, COVID update newsletter and there is a website detailing all the updates. Never once was I confused about how contact tracing would work, the COVID testing process or how many cases there were. I didn’t always like the answer, but at least I had one. Even though the campus is open, student affairs still makes a good effort to offer virtual events so off-campus students can be included.
  3. They did all the little things right. There are shields around the lecterns in classrooms and some classes are held outside when the weather permits. There is a big climate-controlled tent for extra dining space along with plenty of hand sanitizer stations and signs reminding people to social distance. Even at the COVID testing station, there is a basket for used pens so they can be sanitized. They’ve recently expanded to testing more people in sample groups starting with all athletes.

Susa is an editorial intern for the fall semester at Pittsburgh Magazine.

Categories: The 412