Amid rising COVID-19 cases, students call for hybrid spring semester
Members of Disability Empowerment for Yale are putting pressure on the University to move to hybrid instruction in a new petition that has amassed nearly 500 signatures.
Tim Tai, Staff Photographer
In the wake of the recent COVID-19 surge across campus, students from Yale Hybridize Now — alongside almost 500 signatories — are calling on the University to “hybridize” and offer the option for students and professors to attend all classes either in-person or online.
The Yale Hybridize Now campaign, sponsored primarily by Disability Empowerment for Yale, was founded in early February by Julia Miranda ’24 and priva v. ’23. At the time of publication, the group’s petition had a total of 483 signatures, as well as endorsements from 13 Yale organizations across Yale College, Yale’s graduate and professional schools and two non-Yale groups. The primary demand of the petition is to mandate hybrid model accessibility for all Yale course offerings.
“We call on Yale to offer hybrid access to education for the remainder of the semester,” the petition reads. “Give all students and instructors the choice to attend class in-person or online, without penalties or threats to their personal safety. Support instructors to make all forms of learning accessible both virtually and in-person for all students and instructors, regardless of ability or health status.”
The petition is directly addressed to University President Peter Salovey, Provost Scott Strobel, Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Tamar Gendler, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dean Lynn Cooley and the deans of all undergraduate, graduate and professional schools.
University Spokesperson Karen Peart, Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun, Gendler and Goff-Crews did not provide comment on Monday.
The petition presents several benefits of transitioning to a hybrid model and considers the perceived shortcomings of Yale’s current COVID-19 policies, especially with respect to high-risk students.
“Students should not have to pick between their education and their safety,” president of DEFY Chisom Ofomata ’25 wrote in an email to the News. “Instead, Yale can guarantee both by providing accessible hybrid classes. If both in-person and hybrid classes are offered, students will have the freedom to choose the best option for themselves instead of being forced to jeopardize their safety.”
The petition and its signatories maintain that its goal is to improve choice and accessibility for attending classes, not to reduce or eliminate existing in-person options.
Joaquín Lara Midkiff ’24, the former president of DEFY, said that he views the petition as both “complementary and supplementary” to the work the disability rights community has been doing for years. Lara Midkiff, who currently serves as DEFY’s advisor, characterized the petition as a “community pressure campaign.”
“We are trying to demonstrate to the University that there are a number of people who are interested in these issues that we have advocated for a long time now,” Lara Midkiff said. “I think this particular petition speaks more to protecting a community that has been historically marginalized — and, honestly, presently marginalized — both in the context of academia generally and also here at Yale.”
Howard Forman, a professor of radiology and biomedical imaging, told the News that there is a small population at Yale that is “relatively high risk,” but the current outbreak looks like it is “waning” and should be over by the time the petition would be acted upon.
However, he told the News he hopes the petition is looked at thoughtfully. Forman added that there is “good reason” the University should come up with a more consistent policy.
“I think it raises the question of how do we manage this in the future? Not so much, how do we manage it in the past?” Forman told the News. “We will have more outbreaks in future years. And we’ve got to come up with a consistent plan for that.”
Lara Midkiff agreed that the rise in cases should elicit a broader conversation about future approaches.
“I think that especially as cases are growing more and more intense, we need to be having — as a University community — a much more serious and intelligent conversation around what learning should look like, at least for the rest of the term and then also moving forward,” Lara Midkiff said.
Forman said that he records his lectures only for students who have a “verified reason” to be absent from class. He said that making recordings available to everyone compromises the in-class experience, which remains a “worthy pursuit.”
Forman emphasized that he feels the University community needs to establish the “baseline expectation” of classroom instruction, in most cases.
“While it’s nice to say that freedom should be their choice, the experience of students in a classroom is vastly different from students on Zoom,” Forman said. “It’s different for the students. It’s different for the professor, and quite frankly, it is easier for me to teach from my office than it is from the classroom. But I know that it’s better when I’m in the classroom. And I think the same is true for students.”
Some students like Aaron Schorr ’24 support hybridization, but said they saw a potential to reduce in-person opportunities if it were not handled carefully, as professors might choose to make classes fully virtual when it is more convenient for them.
Dean of the School of Public Health Sten Vermund told the News that the University’s public health committee, with Interim Department Chair of Epidemiology Linda Niccolai leading the contact tracing efforts, has yet to find any cases that are attributable to classroom teaching.
However, Vermund said they routinely find cases attributable to social events, including off-campus events.
“So I believe that going hybrid would do little or nothing to reduce the number of cases on campus,” Vermund told the News. “But it might give people a false sense of security.”
Vermund urged students to “be responsible in their social events” to help contain and prevent COVID-19 outbreaks.
He told the News that the University already provides accommodations for students and faculty who are immunosuppressed from undergoing cancer treatment. Vermund also emphasized that the consequences of COVID-19 are “quite trivial” for vaccinated and boosted individuals without underlying immunosuppressive medical conditions.
He told the News that he would like to talk to the signers of the petition and start a more effective dialogue to help communicate the lack of classroom transmission.
DEFY was founded in 2016.
Clarification, Feb. 26: This article has been updated with the leaders of Yale Hybridize Now campaign, as well as information about Ofomata’s role in Disability Empowerment for Yale.