Just like that, it is a new school year, a fresh start. It is safe to say that the 2020-2021 academic year was extremely difficult, and most likely won’t be too missed by the Georgia Southern community.
From courses being fully online, to hybrid, face mask requirements, lottery systems for football tickets, virtual “events” and certain stairwells being only for “up” or “down”, students were giddy for the “normal” Fall 2021 semester that they were promised.
There is just one slight problem. We are still in a global pandemic.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Delta Variant of COVID-19 is more contagious and more transmissible than previous variants, and can cause more severe illness than other strains in unvaccinated persons. This can directly be seen in Statesboro by the continuous spike in new COVID cases.
While students may be thankful for an end to lost time and missed college experiences, they are not the only members of the Georgia Southern community. How does our faculty and staff feel about lifted mask mandates, and students going in and out of quarantining, that directly affects their course plans?
With Georgia Southern and the whole University System of Georgia deciding to go back to full-capacity, in-person classes, comes hard-work from the faculty and staff. They needed to go back to regular operations from before this pandemic, while still managing existing practices of what to do for students that need to miss class due to quarantining.
“I found it hard to juggle last semester because of the split-classroom social distancing thing, which essentially turned every class into two sections,” said Dr. Jeffrey Riley, a journalism professor at Georgia Southern. “Now that the schedule is back to normal, it’s not bad. All I have to do is bring my little plug-in mic and hit record on a Zoom session, then give a regular lecture.”
Professors are happy to see their students in person again, but this semester has faced them with other challenges to their courses as well. “I would rather have my students in person, but that’s not the world we live in today,” stated Dr. Jennifer Kowalewski, another journalism professor at GS. “So it’s still difficult. I think what was actually more difficult was randomly starting on a Wednesday.”
While being a member of the Faculty Senate, Kowalewski discussed how much time and consideration Georgia Southern University has put into developing this year’s plan, while making sure everyone’s health is the top priority.
“I think we’re all planning accordingly in a world that we can’t really plan for. And that’s where I think students are doing a good job in trying to kind of navigate this new world that we’re in,” Kowalewski confidently said.
A public health professor also agreed that the community is handling obstacles thrown at them gracefully. Lisa Cromley stated, “There are two things that are of utmost importance to me, my students’ health and wellbeing and continuing to provide high quality instruction despite COVID related challenges. I think our administration and GSU faculty and staff are continuing to do our best in those two areas.”
It is encouraging to hear that the faculty of Georgia Southern admits to in-person classes being the light at the end of the tunnel, while still acknowledging the health and safety concerns that the Delta Variant arises and having plans set in place for students that need to miss (Zoom is not going anywhere just yet).
“Yes, our physical health is extremely important, but we can’t forget about other dimensions of wellness such as emotional, spiritual, and social health,” Cromley said. “Resuming in-person instruction is extremely important to our overall wellness. I really hope we can continue in-person instruction, but I understand there are times when public health decisions must be made to protect the health of our communities.”
Getting vaccinated and wearing a mask when necessary are two things everyone is probably sick of hearing, but these precautions are vital to prevent you from getting sick.
“I am extremely confident in mine and my family’s decision to get vaccinated,” Cromley announced. “I have done my research on this vaccine and I have no hesitation recommending it to protect against COVID.”
Cromley also exclaimed, “I think we need to reframe our mindset on mask wearing. Instead of focusing on the inconvenience it causes you, because I’ll be honest I don’t enjoy wearing a mask, let’s consider it a small action we can do to help keep others healthy.”
All members of Georgia Southern need to work together to ensure a smooth academic year, with a classroom environment that amplifies the best education possible. Continue to make sure our faculty and staff can do their jobs on campus, and go home safely to their families. Get vaccinated on campus for free. Do your part in keeping Statesboro safe.