At my first in-person orchestra practice last month, I realized how much I had missed sounds. Yes, of course, I missed hearing the sounds of violas and cellos, triplets and quarter-notes, but curiously, that day, I heard much more than music. I heard the squeaking of chairs, the side chats and catch-ups. For the first time since Zoom classes, instead of seeing an array of grinning faces on the screen, I heard other students laugh at a joke. But good things do end quickly. After the 90-minute practice at Hendrie Hall, I went back to my  pandemic-stricken lifestyle of dorm room silence and crackling earbuds. Staring at a screen spewing artificial light listening to a recorded lecture, I then realized how much I missed in-person classes.

The pandemic forced us to live a simple life. This meant getting rid of our usual routines and everyday extravagances. The first things to disappear were parties and travel. Then, even the very concept of eating indoors at restaurants, which had been so mundane pre-pandemic, became precious. Over the past months, we have grown used to such an isolated lifestyle. However, recently, with the decline in global COVID-19 cases and consistent vaccine rollouts, the possibility of the pandemic ending soon seems real. And it is now a vital moment for the world to choose what to keep from these changes and what should be restored to the pre-COVID-19 state.

At Yale, it’s possible to see the reopening of some events and facilities in response to encouraging public health situations. For example, research at Yale is in Phase 3, with on-campus labs open and functioning. Bulldog athletics are in Phase 1, which allows reduced but in-person practices. Also, the Yale Symphony Orchestra’s practice is now in person at reduced capacity. Among these activities, one characteristic is common: They require in-person participation and presence to produce fruitful results. There is no highlight play without the team on the field, and there is no concerto without the orchestra. However, the fact of the matter is that education requires in-person participation as much as these other activities. Our learning will be hindered until we return to the classroom.

Reopening in-person classes must be a priority of Yale’s post-pandemic policy, and there is a need for Yale to find ways to reopen classrooms as soon as possible this fall. Online lectures have shown some drawbacks that only in-person classes will be able to fix. First, the delivery of information via Zoom is suboptimal. Not only is students’ learning largely limited to videos and slides, but it is also hard for the teaching staff to discern whether the students are understanding the material without the nonverbal cues. 

Furthermore, during COVID-19, education was severely individualized. Obstacles were created in student-faculty relationships and among students. Not only has it become harder to meet with professors informally or attend office hours, but online school has also deprived us of meeting peers that share our academic interests. In a normal year, students, especially first years, would find new sources of academic inspiration from peers we meet in classes, which has definitely been more challenging in asynchronous lectures. Sources of learning have been very limited with online school.

Of course, the call for in-person classes does not imply a dramatic reopening nor COVID-19 insensitivity. Like some of the classes happening in person this semester, the teaching staff may have to design novel ways to meet the class. For example, each class of URBN 160 last semester was held in person outdoors, and the students and professor met at a different location in New Haven to discuss the neighboring urban setting. The classes were held far away from dense areas and in small groups, ensuring the safety of the New Haven and Yale community. Through a creative, gradual yet prompt reopening of classrooms, students and professors alike will be able to enjoy the full merits of learning.

In the process of returning to normal, resuming in-person classes at Yale must be a priority. This entails promptly establishing timelines and criteria for reopening classrooms. This requires surveying the vaccination rates among students and faculty. This means specific guidelines for resuming in-person classes must be provided for fall 2021. As a leading institution in education, Yale must reopen classrooms when they are ready to be reopened. 

CHRIS LEE is a first year in Morse College. Contact him at chris.j.lee@yale.edu. 

CHRIS LEE