Students discuss SFU’s reopening plan for fall semester

There are mixed emotions as students face excitement to return and concerns for safety

PHOTO: Gudrun Wai-Gunnarsson / The Peak

Written by: Karissa Ketter, News Writer

Following the provincial government’s announcement of reopening measures, SFU released a reopening plan for the Fall 2021 semester. 

SFU anticipates 70–80% of courses will be taught on campus. Reopening protocols include enhanced cleaning practices and reimplementing student amenities and programs. 

The Peak reached out to various student unions for their thoughts on the return to in-person classes. 

“It feels like again and again, SFU fails disabled students,” said SFU Disability and Neurodiversity Alliance executive member Vivian Ly. 

Based on personal conversations with SFU students, Ly reported many feel SFU needs to better balance remote and in-person classes. Ly added those with priority access are also having trouble enrolling.

Course enrolment for the few remote fall courses gives priority access to the Centre for Accessible Learning (CAL) registrants. Ly said, “It’s certainly not enough. For one, not every disabled student is registered with CAL, often due to a myriad of ableist institutional barriers. There are disabled students who need priority access but cannot access that because of existing and enduring inequities and institutional barriers.

“While SFU is ‘moving forward’ with re-opening, we are leaving our most vulnerable behind.” 

SFU Students of Caribbean and African Ancestry (SOCA) president Balqees Jama noted SOCA shares the same concerns as the Access for All campaign. The campaign highlights accessibility and safety concerns regarding the reopening. It noted the pandemic has allowed for new norms to be established — particularly for disabled students — but returning to in-person status will “reinstate the same barriers to education numerous marginalized students faced prior to the pandemic.” 

SOCA noted concerns regarding financial challenges and travel restrictions for international students to return to campus. Jama said there is a “lack of equitable access to receiving the vaccine in Canada as well as our membership’s many countries.” She highlighted their membership is also experiencing “racial anxiety around returning to face daily anti-Black microaggressions and ongoing systemic racism.”

President of the Data Science Student Society (DSSS) Dustin Jorgensen questioned “how quarantine, vaccinations, and travel arrangements will work for international students.” 

Jorgensen noted concerns surrounding the dangers of the COVID-19 Delta variant emerging in Canada. “If BC experiences another wave of cases due to a variant, are we prepared to return to remote learning?”

Ly said, “Despite many of us wanting the pandemic to be over: it isn’t. Caring for our communities and our collective safety means that SFU should be recognizing this reality and not rushing into policy decisions and re-opening plans.

“Even when I’m fully vaccinated, I’m going to mask up to protect myself and others. I hope that other students, staff, and faculty will do the same.”

“The prospect of going back to classes in person is exciting,” Jorgensen acknowledged. “For many students they’ve completed an entire year of university without seeing the campus!”

In their statement to The Peak, the English Student Union (ESU) echoed this sentiment, saying they “are excited to be returning to on-campus classes and activities.” However, the ESU said their activities and events in the fall will use a hybrid model to accommodate students. “[We] also want to acknowledge the barriers faced by marginalized students in this plan. We are in support of the Access for All campaign.”

SFU announced plans to encourage professors to continue recording and uploading lectures, as well as not penalizing students for being absent. This is in effort to keep students away from campus if they are feeling ill. Ly noted how important it is that SFU is “re-thinking workload, absence policies, and participation policies, which are traditionally rooted in ableist and exclusionary frameworks.”

Ly suggested SFU have dedicated and widespread consultations with students regarding their concerns and then take action. 

“SFU is making all these decisions impacting students without doing broad consultations and without specifically consulting marginalized students such as disabled and neurodivergent students,” said Ly. 

“Our school should be doing more to protect immunocompromised and unvaccinated folks by retaining strong COVID-19 safety practices, not relaxing them [ . . . ] There is simply no safe space on SFU for [a] student that is unvaccinated because they are immunocompromised.”