UC Santa Barbara students are grappling with a new wave of uncertainties surrounding instructional options and the impact of the omicron variant surging through Isla Vista.
Following rising COVID-19 cases, UCSB announced a temporary, two-week shift to remote learning prior to the start of Winter Quarter 2022, which was later extended to remote instruction at the discretion of instructors until Jan. 31.
The Nexus spoke to students about their thoughts and feelings regarding this initial return to remote learning and subsequent return to in-person instruction.
Second-year English major Min Seo Riu said that her personal experience with remote learning has been positive, although she prefers in-person instruction. Despite this preference, Riu acknowledged the risks of returning in person.
Riu said that students not following precautions correctly is a “big problem at UCSB” and noted the many times she’s been in the library and seen individuals not wearing masks.
“Even when there’s precautions, [some students] won’t do it correctly. So if everything was perfect, it would be safe enough [to return to in-person instruction]. But at the current moment, especially with social life still going on, I don’t think it’s safe for us to go back.”
Riu believes that UCSB should strengthen their precautionary measures in order to effectively mitigate the spread of the omicron variant during the return to in-person instruction.
“I think it would be really hard for UCSB as a school to say, ‘Just stay home,’ because they don’t have that kind of authority in our personal lives. I think, honestly, the best thing that they could do is either completely do remote instruction to mitigate [the virus’s spread] or be super strict with precautions,” Riu said.
Second-year pre-biology major Shahir Saleheen said that he would like the university to provide a hybrid option for students who want to resume in-person lectures but may desire the flexibility of an online option.
“I don’t think [students who want to stay online] should be immediately subjected to in-person learning, because there’s a lot of students that are immunocompromised or just overall worried about the long-term effects of COVID. Those are all very valid concerns,” Saleheen said.
Saleheen took issue with what he perceived as delayed communication from the university to the student body about instructional changes occurring during Winter Quarter 2022.
“The school administration has been very bad at telling what they’re going to do ahead of time. I know it takes a lot of meetings and a lot of personnel to make a real decision on where the whole campus goes, but I feel like they should make these kinds of decisions a lot quicker.”
As far as returning in person on Jan. 31, Saleheen thinks it’s possible to do so safely, but the burden of health and safety falls upon the students.
“I think it could be safe as long as people are making sure they’re mindful of staying healthy and making sure that they don’t do things to increase cases on purpose.”
For fourth-year history major Madison Barton, the announcement that UCSB will return in person on Jan. 31 was “disappointing.”
“Despite all of the research and the numbers of the omicron variant, I’m disappointed that the people who are supposed to be looking out for the general welfare of 30,000 individuals decided to forego the values of a safe and successful learning environment,” she said.
As an immunocompromised student, she states her family is concerned that her catching COVID-19 could lead to further health issues, and she worries that returning to campus amidst the peak of COVID-19 cases will increase this possibility.
“She has a medical condition and her doctor doesn’t want her to get COVID-19 because she’s vulnerable, and we don’t want complications,” Madison Barton’s mother Dee Dee Wilson Barton said.
Madison Barton said that, despite the current COVID-19 regulations in place to mitigate the spread of the variant, the opening of facilities like dining halls will still make COVID-19 a threat to the student body.
“They’re talking about all of these mitigation efforts inside the classroom, but the dining halls are still open at 100% capacity,” Madison Barton said. “Like, OK, we walk around with our masks on, but the majority of the people in the dining hall have no masks and are talking, eating, laughing, coughing. I mean, what’s the point?”
She also worries about the potential spread of COVID-19 within her own social circles once she returns to campus.
“You can’t trust anyone,” Madison Barton said. “[Everyone is] individuals with their own lives, and they see their own people, and those people see their own people and it just goes on and on.”
Dee Dee Wilson Barton remarked on the hypocrisy of the university’s decision to return in person despite rising COVID-19 cases.
“I was surprised when I read in the LA Times on Friday that the numbers are the highest they’ve been in the two years of the pandemic. That seems like a weird day to send out a letter saying, ‘Come back … We at UC Santa Barbara have decided it’s safe, even though the LA article says these are horrible numbers, and we are in a horribly infectious moment,’” Dee Dee Wilson Barton said.
Dee Dee Wilson Barton said that delaying the return to campus until the number of COVID-19 cases stabilize and start declining would have stood as a better decision.
“If I got to be in control of the decision-making, I would say don’t bring them back for the next two to three weeks,” she said. “We’re in a peak and the numbers are starting to stabilize, but the hospitalizations are going up and the deaths are going up.”
Fourth-year economics and accounting major Jose Sanchez echoed both of these sentiments, expressing frustration at the university’s decision on Jan. 8 to allow instructors to choose whether or not classes would be held in person or remotely until Jan. 31.
“I was pretty pissed, because I would have taken the quarter [either completely] online or in person with upfront clarity, but now it’s half the quarter online and then the next half is in person,” he said.
Sanchez said that the danger of COVID-19 hits closer to home for him, as he has an immunocompromised housemate.
“I have an immunocompromised housemate, and I’m certainly not going to go to class if it’s packed,” he said. “If they’re really planning to [go back in person], they should have had a hybrid option where people who are at home could stay home.”
Sanchez said that he views UCSB’s urgency to bring students back to campus despite the danger of COVID-19 as a reflection of the current priorities of the university.
“It just shows that they don’t really care. They’re just in it for the money and just don’t really care about student health.”
A version of this article appeared on p. 2 of the Jan. 27, 2022, print edition of the Daily Nexus.