UNA students and staff adapt to classroom changes

Ellen McDonald, News Editor

On Aug. 19, the University of North Alabama welcomed back the pride as students returned to campus and classes began. Before coming to campus, all returning students had to undergo COVID-19 testing through the GuideSafe program. 

Due to GuideSafe receiving an overwhelming amount of tests, they soon fell behind on getting students their results back. So, a multitude of students moved onto campus without having first received a negative test result or without having the chance to get tested. With that, many students went to classes during the first week having not been tested. 

“There is a significant number of students who needed to be tested in a very short amount of time across the state,” said Dr. Tammy Jacques, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs. “A majority of the UNA students who have face-to-face classes have been tested; however, we needed to allow students to have the time to get tested and get their results back.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), maintaining a six feet difference and wearing a cloth face covering are two key ways to minimize the spread of the virus. Within all classrooms on UNA’s campus, students and professors are required to have a face covering on and have noticed the changes in seating arrangements. 

“The biggest difference is space between us, it does not allow for a lot of interaction,” freshman, Erin Martin said. “And masks of course, it can be hard to hear sometimes.”

Students and faculty alike have both had to adapt to these new regulations. It is not always comfortable to have to speak for long periods of time with a face mask on, but it is necessary for the wellbeing of everyone on campus. 

In addition to wearing face coverings, washing hands regularly, and sanitizing desks, students should also be completing the daily UNA Healthcheck.

“…students are adults and need to understand that their choices impact this campus community. We need the entire campus community to answer the UNA Healthcheck honestly,” Jacques said. 

“We need this entire campus community to respect the six feet physical distancing. We need this entire campus community to wear the face coverings properly over the nose and mouth.”

If the students of UNA do not play their crucial role in partnering with the University to prevent the spread of the virus, then we risk going fully online like many other institutions across the country. 

“Every single day fill out the symptom checker and keep up to date with the news,” said senior Charlie Gordon. “Just take care of yourself and be your own best friend. It takes a village, but it takes every single person in that village.”

If all of UNA’s students do their daily part of keeping campus safe, the risk of going online will lessen daily. We must do this together. We must do our part to keep ourselves safe and those around us safe as well.

After the first week of classes however, students noticed others who were failing to abide by University guidelines. 

“As teenagers, they’re [students] following it to the best of their ability, but as adults they are not,” said junior Daniel Green. “We all crave face-to-face interaction, so it’s hard to tell someone no, but at the same time we’re asking students to be more than just teenagers.”

Unlike many institutions across the nation, UNA has the privilege of physically being on campus. We cannot risk ruining that.

“I’ve seen more students than what I am comfortable with that are not following all the guidelines,” said sophomore John Shinholster. “I have seen large percentages of students not following guidelines and that’s a problem.”

Students must remember to maintain social distancing and wear masks properly while anywhere on campus. In large populated areas, like the Guillot University Center (GUC), this is imperative. 

“We have asked employees on campus to address it when they see students who don’t have face coverings on properly,” said Jacques.

Students who are repetitively uncooperative or belligerent about abiding by the University’s guidelines will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct. 

With all of this in mind, many professors made decisions to move their classes to a hybrid or an entirely online format for the fall 2020 semester. While classes may look different this fall, the passion and love that UNA’s professors hold for their students remains the same. 

“My commitment to students and student engagement has not changed,” Dr. Andrea Hunt, the Director of the Mitchell-West Center for Social Inclusion said. “Despite all of these other changes, that student commitment is still there.”

The faculty and staff of the University has always been there for their students. Now, due to the coronavirus pandemic, they are more available than ever. A large part of making this process go smoothly, is communication between students and their professors. They are here to help students prosper and succeed. 

“Reach out to your professors, we are definitely understanding,” said Latasha Howell, a professor within UNA’s English department. “I’ll even call my students if they need to talk. We [professors] are really helpful here and we are working extra hard because of the pandemic.”

Alongside an increased need for communication, many students need help outside of the classroom. 

“How a student’s family and their community is being affected and any anxiety over being on campus and the format of how classes are operating can cause issues for students,” Hunt explained. “We have to consider how the outside world is affecting students as they come into our space. We must provide a safe space for students in person and online.”

For many, the stress of online classes can be astronomical. One must keep themselves on a schedule and one also loses the in person reminder of due dates. This in turn, can affect a student’s academic performance as well as their mental health. 

“Reach out and make personal interaction with your professors. There’s now virtual tutoring and virtual advising,” said Gordon. “Even if it wasn’t during a pandemic, you should make those connections.”

The University of North Alabama has a magnitude of resources to help students alongside their path to academic success. The Writing Center, Student Counseling Services, the Student Success Center and the math tutoring program are just some of the programs in place for students to utilize. 

With students returning to campus and as classes progress, news of UNA’s students being placed into quarantine due to possible contact or testing positive for the virus has surfaced. 

“Anyone who becomes symptomatic is required to test even if they’ve had a previous negative test,” said Jaques. 

If a student tests positive, they will be required to isolate. The University will then perform contact tracing on anyone who was within six feet of the student for 15 minutes or greater. They will then ask anyone who fits into this categorization to self isolate. To add, any professor who has been in contact with someone who has COVID-19 for greater than 15 minutes at less than six feet distance will also be asked to self isolate. 

“Academic Affairs has been working on contingency plans for how they will handle the courses should a faculty member become quarantined or isolated due to a confirmed diagnosis,” said Jacques. “Some departments have backup plans with other faculty to help teach courses.”

The University is doing all within its ability to ensure the safety of everyone on campus. This virus is ever changing and everyday brings about new information and new challenges. With that, it is to be expected that not everything will be perfect. 

Everyday, students, faculty and staff are all learning to adapt to abrupt changes within classrooms. It is a process and we will take it one day at a time together.