SFU’s Fall return should be accessible to all students

SFU needs to consider a hybrid of in-person and remote instruction

A Fall in-person return would be great, but it needs to accommodate everyone. PHOTO: Miguel Henriques / Unsplash. PHOTO: Surface / Unsplash

by Emma Jean, Staff Writer

On February 22, each student enrolled at SFU received an email that seemed incredibly premature given current circumstances. It was about the status of Fall 2021’s course delivery. After months of gossip and speculation, every student finally learned that SFU is not only considering an “almost full-scale return,” but that the only other option was a “significant return” to on-campus class.

The email announcement came as a shock to students as it goes against the general belief that SFU would only consider a return once case rates have slowed down significantly, which has not happened. This hypothetical return would involve classes returning before the scheduled vaccinations for 18 to 24-year-olds in BC — a significant number of whom live and work on campus. 

Coming back to campus will be an emotional and physical relief for many people. But for those more at risk of infection, uncomfortable returning to campus, or waiting until the majority of the campus population receives the vaccine, it could be quite the opposite. The options that SFU are presenting might be successful, but it’s important to make sure that they don’t leave anyone behind.

SFU’s plan feels like a huge gamble. Bringing children back to elementary and high schools has worked out relatively well in BC, but growing research suggests that children experience the virus very differently than adults do. Universities in the United States that have opened up have had incredibly different infection rates from one another, but toss-up odds still mean that many students and staff could get sick.

There are many medical experts doing intensive research on how post-secondary schools can re-open and it’s important that we trust their judgement. However, that doesn’t mean that this situation is going to work for everyone. There are plenty of reasons that remote learning might be the best option for some students while SFU opens up. A person might be immunocompromised or bubbled with those who are, they may have to relocate and quarantine without the financial support to do so, or have any number of reasons to be reluctant to return to campus.

An option that allows students to participate in online classes and to safely come to campus if they are comfortable would be essential in a transition that takes full consideration of students’ needs. This would both recognize the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic and acknowledge the importance of safe re-opening. 

Models like this are far from unheard of; in places like Nova Scotia at Acadia University, most undergraduate lectures are carried out in-person to a small group of students while the majority of other students watch them live virtually. For students on campus, it’s hardly a return to normalcy either. Each step is accompanied by symptom-monitoring protocols and social distancing rules. By following this model, there have been only two cases reported (none related to community spread) and re-opening actions have been able to occur more frequently. The capacity to spread in a small Atlantic Canadian town is different than in a metropolitan area like the Lower Mainland, but we should consider using this thoroughly blended success story at SFU if it could bring similar positive results. 

We don’t know what SFU will ultimately decide at this point. These preliminary statements are just that, and as the monster of COVID-19 evolves in all its variants and more information becomes available, SFU may change its tune when it comes to re-opening. Whatever action that they end up following through on, they need to be ones that accommodate a variety of students’ needs, not just those able to risk exposure.