Lessons we must learn from the fall semester

It comes as no surprise that 2021 has not only found us learning how to deal with the reality of a deadly virus that has taken the lives of millions but also the mentally taxing experience of a presidential election and the process of transferring power. It has seeped into every facet of our lives and the heaviness it has created doesn’t just disappear now that we’ve traveled further in time. Folks are still adjusting to continuing their professional and academic lives in a time when we should be all social distancing and quarantining. Campus leaders have forgotten the distress caused by divisive events on campus last semester and the administration’s shaky, uneven responses to them. From the lack of accountability for fraternities and sororities continuing to party, to the university’s mishandling of the polarizing tension of the election, last year’s affairs aren’t done with.

The great thing about the spring semester is that it’s like a second chance. Whenever we’ve had one of those fall semesters where things just didn’t go right, we know all hope isn’t lost because we have the next semester to rectify the problems we experienced before. For many of us, that might mean realizing that we can’t do Zoom classes in bed and creating more disciplined schedules for ourselves. Just like many of us will take advantage of this second opportunity to make things better, the administration needs to as well.

Now that several more students have returned to campus in comparison to last semester, it should be of the utmost importance for the university to prioritize the wellbeing of students, faculty and staff. The fall semester saw more than 1,500 reported COVID cases, even with social distancing and contact tracing guidelines put in place. There needs to be stronger enforcement of our COVID safety policies and repercussions for students and groups who violate such policies. Greek Life doesn’t need a season to act up, as members of Greek Life threw parties last semester and organized trips to Key West. This semester presents an even higher public health risk with sorority recruitment and fraternity spring rush. The university needs to monitor these groups and their leaders who continue to put others at risk. UM also needs to follow its own policy this semester by enforcing strict social distancing guidelines, making sure testing goes smoothly, ensuring that testing kits don’t run out and not packing classes full of students.

Because we are constantly learning about this virus and figuring out how to adjust, the tasks that we have to get done can be affected by this constant limbo. Administrators and professors say that they understand that we are going through a pandemic but their actions have said otherwise. When students rallied for a pass-fail option for grades, the administration denied the request. Some professors have upped their course material and expectations in light of the pandemic and the additional time they believe it gives us. These dismissals of the clear needs of students can’t continue. There should be several alternative grading options available to students during this time.

Perhaps the biggest lesson we can learn from last semester is a lesson on transparency and how far it can bring you. Whether it was late updates on COVID cases or canceled graduation ceremonies or vague statements on utterly pressing issues, our administration needs to learn to be more open about communicating with students. We no longer can tolerate meaningless communications emails that dance around issues and end up not saying much at all. We want radical transparency. We want open, honest communication with students, their families and the school’s staff and service workers. Most importantly, we want the university to be unafraid to take a stance on the issues on our campus and of the world. The university has recruited some amazing and strong student leaders that aren’t afraid to speak up for what they believe in, and we would like to see that same fearlessness in our own university leaders.

As we close out the first week back, remember to stay safe, hold each other accountable and have a great semester.