Pandemic Perspectives

UA students discuss returning to campus during an outbreak

Courtesy photo
Bita Mosallai

Lam Nguyen came to the U.S. during high school as an international student from Vietnam. In pursuit of studying optical sciences and engineering, he decided to attend the University of Arizona. This upcoming fall semester will be his junior year, and despite concerns of the campus reopening, Nguyen remains hopeful.

"It would be risky but definitely doable," he said. "I think the school will take a lot of safety measures, of course, to put the students first."

Nguyen noted the challenges students faced when the school transitioned courses online in March.

"Our health was affected a lot," Nguyen said. "You went from walking miles and miles every day at school to sitting at home in front of a computer."

For him, the biggest challenge was the cancellation of lab classes.

"It's definitely better for engineers and science students to be able to go into the lab. To have an in-person experience instead of trying to look online," Nguyen said.

He spent the summer in Tucson away from his parents.

"My parents are currently in Vietnam and the country is doing really well with the whole COVID situation," Nguyen said. "I am not as worried for them than I am worried about the situation in this country right now."

However, Nguyen says he is still managing social distancing and only going out for essential travel. He also says that he is looking forward to the new school year.

Adela Granados is a first-generation college student majoring in creative writing. Since she lost her job at a campus grocery store thanks to the pandemic, Granados has tried to keep herself busy with keeping in shape and volunteering in a Korean language study camp, which is also her minor. She is worried about returning back to campus in the fall for her junior year.

"I find it very stupid to be reopening in the fall when this whole pandemic hasn't blown over yet," Granados said. "I feel like we are a little too lax in what we should be doing to prevent it. The minute that we are allowing small businesses to reopen again, everyone sees this as a green light to pursue their lives like normal, which is very not conducive to what we are trying to do."

Granados is OK with shops and restaurants reopening in order to stay in business, she thinks it's still important to be careful. She suggests the university to have a trial period before fully reopening the campus and provide resources for the students.

"A test run wouldn't hurt," Granados said. "I find that we can never be too careful... The UA should provide preventive measures like gloves or masks ready on hand for those who don't have them."

Granados is keeping an open mind as the university reveals more of its plans, but she's ready to get back to the classroom.

"I am very, very cooped up," Granados said. "I am very much an introvert, but it's getting to me too."

Sav Schlauderaff is a third-year graduate student studying Gender and Women's Studies. Schlauderaff is the graduate assistant at the Disability Cultural Center (DRC) and a Safe Zone facilitator at the LGBTQ+ Resource Center and was one of the student representatives that presented their concerns at a press conference on campus reentry on June 4. Schlauderaff is chronically ill and disabled, and said they will continue working and studying at home even if the campus plans to reopen.

Schlauderaff expects a lot of changes to university life in the fall semester.

"Students want to get back to campus and experience college, but we are also in a pandemic," Schlauderaff said. "Desires to go to football games and go to clubs and other events on campus—it is unfortunate for those individuals who will be missing out on those experiences, but we are in a pandemic where people are dying from COVID-19."

Schlauderaff said it is not only for the undergraduate and graduate students, but there are also the cultural centers and facility members that are being overlooked in the work they might have to do.

In the many concerns addressed in their DRC statement, there are two Schlauderaff mentions to be personal.

"I think safety and course concerns are the two biggest question marks," Schlauderaff said. "Course concerns can also overlap with accommodation concerns, and what that is going to look like for not only disabled students but also those impacted by COVID."

Bita Mosallai completed her freshman year at the university and recently declared her major in family studies and human development. She was disappointed in having to stop her Blue Chip Leadership (an engagement program) activities and volunteer work due to the pandemic. However, because of this, she has learned to better socialize with others in other ways.

"It made me talk to people more, ask them how they are doing, how they are feeling and check-in with people more," Mosallai said. Before she only went to planned gatherings to socialize, but now she takes more of an initiative over platforms like Zoom video conferencing, though it does not mean she feels ready to meet face-to-face just yet.

"I am still wary of when it is a good time to hang out in-person, or in a group of people," Mosallai said.

She has mixed emotions on the plans for the campus to reopen next week.

"I feel wary about going back, but also curious," Mosallai said. "I feel like it is going to be normal, but at the same time not normal."

Mosallai said that though she believes that her family wouldn't want her to go back to campus, they would still let her.

"At the same time, we kind of have to because we all need to continue on," Mosallai said. "I think they would want me to be safe, wear a mask and avoid large gatherings, but to still go and get my education."

Ali Buzza, a UA junior studying political science, said she was excited on the potential of coming back to campus and getting back into the "school mindset."

"Coming home this spring, it really made me feel very disconnected," said Buzza, who lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her parents. "It kind of took away from the college experience and some of my motivation, honestly."

However, she said she wasn't quite sure how campus reentry would work with so much uncertainty in the future.

"I think that there will be a lot of trial and error, but unfortunately this is not really something that there can be much trial and error in," Buzza said.

Buzza also said she was interested to see how some classes will be run. She explained that she was planning to take an economics class this fall that usually seats over 500 students.

"That I just don't see happening," Buzza said.

While there is still much to be decided about campus reentry, including course sizes and structures, Buzza said she was most looking forward to potentially regaining some of the normalcy college provides.

Political science major Alex Parker said she was hesitant about campus reopening for in-person instruction in the fall.

"I'm eager to go back, but I'm a little worried," Parker said.

The Phoenix resident said she thought it was important the University of Arizona properly followed Centers for Disease Control guidelines and enforced social distancing. Should campus open with such safety precautions, she said one of the biggest drawbacks would be still limiting contact with others and how clubs on campus would function differently.

Parker said she would like to return to campus if possible, especially to reap the benefits of in-person instruction. She said she had a harder time learning solely digitally.

"Being back in class would be a lot more helpful for me as a student," Parker said.

She also said she missed the campus atmosphere as a whole.

"It doesn't feel the same learning online, obviously," Parker said. "I don't see my friends who live out of state or I don't feel like I'm a part of the school as much as I do when I'm on campus." ■

Mekayla Phan and Sam Burdette are University of Arizona journalism students and Tucson Local Media interns.

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