With the 2021-22 academic year coming to a close, UC Santa Barbara students and administrators reflected on COVID-19 and its impact on instruction.
The year has been nothing short of unconventional, with instruction and student life transitioning between in-person and remote as community members navigated changing COVID-19 health guidelines impacted by the pandemic.
Fall Quarter 2021
The year began with an in-person fall quarter after 18 months of remote instruction, as students returned to campus in September 2021. Even amid the surge in population in Isla Vista and its surrounding areas, COVID-19 case numbers remained “fairly consistent,” the Nexus reported, and I.V. had the second-lowest case rate in the county as of Oct. 12.
UCSB reported 57 positive COVID-19 cases since Sept. 19, with 52 of these cases coming from undergraduate students.
As of Sept. 13, the University Library reopened its main and music buildings, with all eight floors, along with study rooms, fully back in operation.
With the beginning of fall quarter came the administration of COVID-19 booster shots for anyone 18 and older in a long-term facility or who is immunocompromised being eligible for the vaccination as of Oct. 30. UCSB also began its randomized COVID-19 testing on Oct. 7, which implemented a system of randomly selecting and testing vaccinated students.
Second-year history of public policy and law major Destinie Mireles said the transition process was straightforward, and that professors often took it upon themselves to protect students’ health throughout the transition process.
“It was a smooth transition because a lot of teachers wanted to go in person, but a lot of teachers didn’t, so they did that hybrid,” Mireles said. “This was honestly great for protecting their own safety because if the school is pushing it and not really thinking about their safety, they have to take precautions for themselves.”
Fourth-year Japanese major Anjyu Kemp, who is also a senior, was excited to spend the majority of her last year at UCSB in person.
“I just feel so nostalgic, and I’m happy to be back,” Kemp said. “The transition was a bit rough just because everything was online and I was used to online, but my excitement overpowered any bad feelings.”
Fourth-year economics major Kai Dumlao recalled remote instruction last year as not significantly different from in-person learning this year.
“[My transition] was pretty smooth,” Dumlao said. “It’s not too big of a difference going into Zoom classes, just not a lot of class participation, and it just doesn’t feel as connected as in-person classes.”
For third-year chemistry major Niamh Barrett, however, coming into fall quarter after an extended period of time of remote learning was overwhelming and lacked guidance in terms of choosing courses.
“I definitely think I was kind of just thrown in,” Barrett said. “None of the orientation and stuff were in person, so it was a little bit more difficult to find classes and know which classes I’m supposed to sign up for.”
For fourth-year psychological and brain sciences and anthropology double major Jordan Cooper, the main struggle of transitioning back to in-person was re-learning how to socialize with her campus community.
“I had already been here for a year and half before [COVID-19] and then I lived in I.V. for my junior year, so it wasn’t a bad transition,” Cooper said. “It was just a matter of, ‘How do I socialize again?’”
Winter Quarter 2022
After a quarter of in-person learning, UCSB announced its return back to remote instruction for the first two weeks of winter quarter following the emergence of the omicron variant, where COVID-19 cases across Santa Barbara County spiked as of December 2021.
Cases continued to rise into Week 1, with students testing positive by the hundreds and case numbers peaking at 303 tests on Jan. 5.
While UCSB initially decided to not extend remote learning through the entire month of January — making them the only quarter system UC to not do so — they eventually changed the decision due to a continued rise in COVID-19 cases, with in-person instruction resuming on Jan. 31.
“Instruction falls under the purview of Academic Senate and academic affairs,” UCSB spokesperson Shelly Leachman previously said in a statement to the Nexus. “The decision was made following extensive consultation with ‘the Academic Senate and members of the faculty, deans and administrative colleagues, students, staff, and campus medical experts.’”
UCSB also mandated that all eligible students receive a COVID-19 booster shot by Jan. 31 — and faculty and staff by Feb. 4.
Many students voiced concerns on returning back to campus amidst the peak of midterms season. Kemp reflected on feeling worried about contracting COVID-19 during that time, with students having to take their exams in close proximity with one another.
“With midterms season coming around, everyone was so enclosed in one space, and it was a bit concerning with COVID,” Kemp said. “Maybe … half the class could have taken the midterm one day, and the other half take it on a different day. Just more structured seating arrangements and spacing between people would have been nice.”
Mireles said taking in-person exams after a month of remote instruction inhibited her ability to retain information and feel prepared for her midterms.
“A lot of kids, especially me, can’t really focus on the computer,” Mireles said. “It’s hard to have us come back during midterms … and definitely a lot of failing when it came to midterms that season was because a lot of kids can’t focus.”
Barrett echoed Mireles, saying that going into midterms season without prior in-person instruction in their courses meant she felt unprepared.
“I didn’t quite know what to expect [because] we had never yet done any in-person stuff,” Barrett said. “I have never had a class with these professors before, so I didn’t know what to expect, so I definitely would not have come back during midterm week.”
Beyond midterms, Kemp spoke to her personal struggles of going home during the initial month of remote instruction as an international student.
“It was really difficult to get back home because a lot of foreigners weren’t allowed [in Japan],” Kemp said. “We couldn’t really fly domestically [in Japan] … and flights were only going to Tokyo but I live in Kyushu, so we had to drive all the way from Tokyo to back home, and that was 16 hours.”
Regardless, Dumlao said that returning to in-person instruction was the right decision on the part of the university because of the university’s high vaccination rate and students’ temporary immunity from contracting COVID-19.
“I think it was right to open everything up since the majority of people are vaccinated or have had COVID already,” Dumlao said. “I think it’s necessary that we open back up and continue revisiting our normal life before the pandemic.”
Spring Quarter 2022
During spring quarter, in-person instruction continued for UCSB’s student community, and Chancellor Henry T. Yang announced on the end of the university mask mandate beginning March 19.
“Beginning March 19, masks will no longer be required in indoor spaces on campus, with the exception of classrooms,” Yang said in a mass email to the campus community. “Nevertheless, all persons, regardless of vaccination status, are strongly recommended but not required to wear a mask while indoors, except when working alone in private offices.”
UCSB experienced a rise in COVID-19 positivity rates in the first three weeks of spring quarter, with a nearly 3% increase in cases.
UCSB also discontinued the COVID-19 Screening Survey, which asks about common sickness symptoms and was previously required to be completed by students prior to coming to campus and accessing the Recreation Center and the Dining Commons.
However, some students voiced frustration toward repeatedly receiving notices regarding COVID-19 exposures in classes and wished the university delayed lifting the mask mandate.
“I’ve gotten at least five positive COVID-19 exposures just from two classes, and throughout the whole quarter, I’ve gotten about a good 15,” Mireles said. “So I think it was a little bit premature, especially when they lifted it.”
Barrett similarly experienced getting emails of peers testing positive in her classes, resulting in her decision to continue wearing masks in lecture.
“I have big classes in Campbell Hall, and every single week, I get an email saying that someone tested positive,” Barrett said. “I would not have lifted the mask mandate, but they probably had other influences [to the decision] as well, so I understand that, and I just choose to wear mine.”
Mireles spoke to having immunocompromised family members back home and appreciated seeing that some of her peers still wear their masks in lecture despite the lift of the mask mandate.
“I’m thankful to the people who do wear them in class because I do have at-risk people at home,” Mireles said. “They’re pushing so hard to make [life] normal when it’s not a normal world anymore, unfortunately.”
Kemp similarly spoke to the stress of constantly getting emails of peers testing positive for COVID-19.
“I like the security of the masks because I’m in a [general education] class, and I constantly get emails that someone got COVID in class, and that just makes me more stressed,” Kemp said.
As a senior graduating and returning home to Japan soon, the possibility of contracting COVID-19 and passing it to family members is a constant worry.
“I especially don’t want to catch COVID before I leave,” Kemp said. “My home is near my grandmother and other family members who are older, and getting the vaccine in Japan is also quite difficult to get, so I really try to watch out and look out for myself.”
Cooper had a similar sentiment on prolonging the mask mandate in relation to current COVID-19 cases seeming to rise.
“COVID spikes are happening right now, it seems like really frequently, so I don’t know whether [lifting the mask mandate] was a good idea or not,” Cooper said. “If I were admin, I would have kept it going for a while.”
Regardless, Dumlao expressed gratitude for returning to in-person instruction for spring quarter as a graduating senior of UCSB.
“I felt like transitioning back to in-person was a good note to end on,” Dumlao said. “I still got the experience in the old class setting before I left, which I really enjoyed since I went remote when I was a sophomore, so I’ve been online for more than half of my time here.”
A version of this article appeared on p. 4 of the May 26, 2022, print edition of the Daily Nexus.