We’re all familiar with COVID-19 precautions: daily health check-ins, masks, social distancing and Zoom classes. We understand that the coronavirus can spur long-term health problems, especially for those with underlying health conditions who are more susceptible to severe cases and even death — well, maybe Governor Lamont isn’t familiar with that.
Many of these precautions should stay, at least in a modified form. Zoom classes should remain in course catalogues post-pandemic and in-person courses should continue offering Zoom-in options to accommodate students with disabilities and to reduce the spread of other contagions on campus.
In my senior year of high school, I was diagnosed with a primary immunodeficiency. This means my body doesn’t naturally produce the antibodies necessary to ward off certain infections, in my case upper respiratory ones. Pre-pandemic, I followed many of these guidelines; I wore masks on planes, wiped down my seat and tray table and received judgemental stares. I didn’t go to parties during flu season, because I knew the average bout of the flu would hit me severely. Even so, I had to attend in-person classes, where my classmates showed up contagious and I would inevitably contract influenza. Every semester, I would lament the fact that I could not attend classes virtually during flu season.
One of the more frustrating experiences of showing up in person during flu season and getting sick every year is knowing Yale already had the capacity to provide Zoom classes. I took a Yale Summer Session course online after my first year. It was a fantastic course — archaeoastronomy, which I highly recommend. The Zoom experience worked seamlessly — assuming you have adequate wifi, which remains a concern for many Yalies and must be addressed.
The costs of exclusively in-person classes can be severe: some students, faced with unavoidable medical circumstances, take leaves of absences. In spring 2020, Mafalda von Alvensleben ’22 asked Yale if she could enroll in classes virtually while undergoing a major surgery and recovering away from campus. Yale said that was not feasible, yet two months later, the University announced all classes would be virtual for the remainder of the year — the school had the capacity for virtual courses all along. The Yale administration made an avoidable decision, blocking a student from her education instead of granting her a reasonable accommodation related to disability.
Other students have encountered difficulties arriving at class on time, thanks to Yale’s Special Services Van. The van, pre-pandemic, frequently arrived late, leaving students with disabilities waiting for transportation to a class already underway. Joaquín Lara Midkiff ’23 described several experiences where the van’s tardiness affected his academic performance — he was only able to attend one section for his biology class in full, due to “transit missteps.” Having a Zoom-in option for in-person classes would enable students left stranded by the van to join classes from their dorm rooms on short notice.
I’m sure there are professors who would be quite amenable to teaching the occasional class from the comforts of their New York or D.C. homes, instead of commuting to New Haven every Tuesday and Thursday. I’m sure there are also professors who would rather be conducting research for their next books on location, instead of having to take sporadic semesters off and cramming all their research into the span of just a few months. The assumption that all students and professors would like to return to exclusively in-person classes does not rest on any school-wide surveys.
Providing at least a limited selection of courses, offered either completely remotely or with a remote/Zoom-in option every year, would grant students the flexibility to select courses as best suits their medical, financial or familial needs. Ideally, every department would offer several courses with virtual options each term.
This nuanced, blended model enables students who prefer the in-class experience to have it, while allowing students who need to be remote for the semester that optionality. Continuing to offer a selection of Zoom courses would provide students with the flexibility to Zoom into class on days when they don’t feel well, particularly with common colds — we should also keep using masks around others when we’re sick. Creating a blended classroom design, with in-person and Zoom-in options, means students can miss fewer classes when they are sick, injured or abandoned by special services vans. Such measures would also reduce the spread of sickness on campus, protecting those of us most vulnerable to severe illness.
I recognize that professors face technical difficulties with dual Zoom and in-person classes, but I’m sure professors would prefer students not show up while contagious with infectious diseases. Additionally, YLS and SOM professors have experimented with a hybrid model this semester — it’s certainly feasible. Having a Zoom-in option is simply a better alternative to the system we have now and would protect students and professors from severe illness. That quality of life benefit outweighs any potential for technological issues or even slight misuses of the policy.
The coronavirus is not going away; Anthony Fauci predicts it’s with us for the long term. Flu season will continue to exist every year. The “return to normal” everyone speaks fondly of is, for many of us, an inaccessible step backwards. Now that we have the infrastructure for Zoom classes and daily temperature checks, we should continue these measures to ensure every student can participate fully, regardless of health conditions.
PAIGE LAWRENCE is a senior in Grace Hopper College in the joint BA/MA History program. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.