Beginning with the first two, and now four, weeks of remote instruction, winter 2022 is bearing similarities to 2020 for the campus community. Dining halls are once again open only for takeout as of Jan. 10, COVID-19 cases and positivity rates on campus are reaching record highs, and classrooms are remaining empty for months on end, leaving the UC Santa Cruz community to wonder what the future has in store.
Students are raising concerns over positivity rates, whether or not remote instruction will be extended, and the administration’s communication regarding changing COVID-19 policies and procedures. Meanwhile, staff and faculty have adjusted to remote instruction and a different campus climate over winter break, forcing many to work during campus closure.
Winter 2022 university guidelines required all students to receive a COVID-19 test 48 hours prior to their arrival on-campus, then test again 48 hours after their arrival. However, the pre-arrival tests were not checked, as students were not required to submit their test results on Health e-Messenger, or check in with the university in any other way.
University testing guidelines require only one test for off-campus students and one test every two weeks for on-campus students after their pre- and post- arrival testing. The rapid changes of policy in addressing the Omicron surge created frustration within the student body, as students who planned to move in on Jan. 2 had less than a week to make arrangements for a 48-hour pre-arrival test.
One Resident Assistant (RA) living on campus noted a lack of communication between student employees and the administration, and shared concerns over the uncertainty of campus plans.
“[RAs] are getting updates at the same time as the general student body population. So we’re not getting any notice… I feel like I’m very much living on the edge, and wondering what exactly I’m preparing for,” they said. “Really what I’m asking for is transparency in order to help my residents. I feel like in two weeks I could be told, ‘Oh pack up, we’re all leaving campus,’ and that’s a really turbulent way of communicating. We just want transparency.”
International students especially face challenges with remote instruction due to time-zone differences and potential housing insecurity in Santa Cruz.
“The first fear you have is like, ‘Oh shit, do I have to pack everything I own and move back across the world to wherever home is?’” said Ryan Alame, a third-year international student from Lebanon. “I don’t want to go back and live with my parents again. I spent all of last year feeling like I’m back in high school. It feels like I’m taking a step back.”
First, second, and even a few third year students arrived at UCSC for the first time this past fall, after spending the majority of their college experiences on their computers. The sudden shift back to remote learning due to the recent surge has reminded students of the seemingly unending feeling of the pandemic.
Second-year Sharlyn Cunanan is apprehensive about her move onto campus this quarter. The pivoting between in-person and online instruction poses a challenge to anyone who has been in college since 2020.
“It’s kind of scary thinking about how I’ve gotten used to an online setting for college. In a way, that’s the only kind of college education I know and I’m a little scared of what will happen when I go back in-person.” She then hesitantly added, “If we ever go back in-person.”
Faculty were informed of the switch to online education on Dec. 20. In a quick move, most classes had to transition from in-person curriculums back to Zoom before the start of the quarter, Jan. 3.
“I think that the university could have communicated that they were going to go remote earlier,” wrote art professor, Dr. Elizabeth Stephens in an email. “Then everyone would have had a little more time to prepare.”
Stephens was set to teach a studio art class, Special Topics in Sculpture, for winter 2022. With the switch to remote, and permission from the administration, she was able to transform her class to function outdoors, using walking as art to understand and share their environment.
Although she has found the long testing lines on campus to feel unsafe, Stephens said that she believes the university is doing their best under the circumstances.
The Center for Innovations in Teaching and Learning (CITL), Online Education (OE), and Information Technologies (IT), worked with UCSC faculty over break to help provide resources and support this transition. According to Jody Greene, director of CITL, staff in CITL, OE and IT worked unpaid through the holidays to answer questions and support faculty through this time.
Chemistry professor Ted Holman is also a part of the small group of teachers who are exceptions to the move to remote learning, teaching Inorganic Lab in person since the beginning of week three winter 2022.
During 2020-2021 Holman noted that the online lab worked for the situation, but the change in quality was night and day compared to in-person instruction.
Holman explained that students graduating with chemistry degrees without lab experience are at a huge disadvantage when they enter the workforce.
“I don’t want this to be a lost generation,” Holman said. “When they go into these lab situations and they don’t know what the hell is going on, that’s a huge concern for not just me, but for our whole department.”
Faculty and T.A.s in Holman’s division were consulted in late December to ensure that in-person instruction was something they were all comfortable going forward with.
Holman emphasized that he and his colleagues are committed to teaching in person, however if conditions change the university administration will follow procedures to return them to remote-instruction.
Holman and his students are part of the small group that have the opportunity to remain on campus. For those who are not, administrators are stressing understanding from students.
“We understand the desire to return to normalcy. However, that requires predictability,” Jody Greene said “The extra time has allowed us to get all systems in place[…] We make decisions that appropriately care about the well-being of our community. This means their success, trust, and their health.”