CSU town hall addresses students’ unanswered questions about return to campus

Students are feeling unsure and anxious about returning to in-person learning

File Photo Brian Lapuz

As we are about to enter our second fall semester amid a global pandemic, many students are just as concerned and confused as ever about the guidelines that the university and government are laying out.

Many students expressed concerns about the ambiguous information in the emails sent by the university, while others said they have not received any information at all from their program's faculty. An anonymous survey conducted by the CSU showed that of the 146 people who had responded, 45 per cent of them had not received any information from their department regarding their fall 2021 plans. 

Other topics discussed included the university’s mask and vaccine mandates. Concordia has not implemented a vaccine mandate for students returning to in-person learning, and it is required to wear a mask while moving around anywhere within the school and in indoor public spaces. Non mask face coverings will not be permitted.

As for social distancing, Interim Provost and Vice-President, Academic Anne Whitelaw, fully expects more than 80 per cent of the school population will be vaccinated by September, therefore she believes they will be able to carry on with in-person classes without having to implement distancing among students.

“The idea of opening up when immunocompromised students will be killed by going back to class is absolutely ridiculous, and murder,” Margot Berner said. Berner was one of many students who expressed anxiety about returning to in-person classes.  

One student pointed out that the health regulations set forth by the government are often minimal, and asked whether the university can opt for more precaution in the interest of students’ well-being.

“For every student saying, ‘We want to stay remote,’ we have students saying, ‘We want to be in person,’” Whitelaw said. “We are trying to be mindful of those differences and [the] spectrum of needs,” she continued, in defense of the university’s decision-making process.  

Emre Yavuz-Vitye, a third-year student, worked with another Concordia student to set up a petition asking the school to offer a hybrid model of learning and to give people the option of studying remotely or in-person. He hopes the petition will generate awareness on how many students found the online platform much more accessible for their learning needs.

“The idea of opening up when immunocompromised students will be killed by going back to class is absolutely ridiculous, and murder.” — Margot Berner

The issue surrounding the return to in-person learning has weighed heavily on international students. The hybrid learning model would give students who are coming from outside of Montreal the freedom to decide if they want to return to the city this semester or continue learning remotely. As of now, the university’s guidelines on international students stands as follows: they may start the semester remotely but must be in Montreal by November to complete the semester in-person, forcing some of them to decide between their own safety or graduating. 

When another student addressed the lack of outreach made by Concordia to assess the needs of students, in particular regards to mental health, Whitelaw agreed the university needs to improve on that matter.  

In response to this issue, she said they are working with the university’s director of Campus Wellness and Support Services, Gaya Arasaratnam, to figure out a way to expand counselling services to make them more accessible to everyone, but has yet to lay out a specific plan. 

Many other questions and concerns centered around when other student services can be expected to reopen, such as Le Gym and the Perform Center, and library space.  

Deborah Cross, the assistant director of Education and Community Engagement, said the staff at the Perform Center will be back in a hybrid mode by mid-August and all the equipment—which has remained idle during the past 17 months—will have to be assessed and recalibrated before being used again. From there, Environmental Health and Safety will go in and provide guidelines and timelines for when the space will be able to open up safely. 

No news on Le Gym has been provided as of yet. 

Guylaine Beaudry, Vice-Provost, Digital Strategy and University Librarian, reminded everyone that both libraries are currently open, and the reading rooms are available. As of Aug. 16, the graduate spaces in both Webster and Vanier will be open once again, and as of Sept. 7, the libraries will be open 24/7. She added that if anyone has any inquiries to not hesitate and reach out by sending her an email.

As many students are feeling anxious about the idea of returning to campus, the faculty and university are continuously working on ways to make mental health resources more available. You can seek out guidance through their counselling and psychology services or by calling one of the numbers listed on their emergency and crisis resources page found here. For more details regarding health and safety guidelines, you can visit the Coronavirus safety program website.