Spring semester begins remotely to curb COVID cases

Illustration by Amelia Madarang

On Jan. 7, Lewis & Clark College announced their decision to move the first three weeks of the Spring 2022 semester online. 

“All three campuses (CAS, law, grad) determined that a fully-remote start best allowed us to provide full access to classes while maintaining the health and safety needs of the campus,” Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Bruce Suttmeier said via email. 

LC had to adapt to going fully online for the first time since March 2020. 

First-year Jodi Fallas ’25 remarked that she was not “unused to the online experience.” However, she observed that beginning the second semester of her freshman year online made her feel “a little isolated” in her room, and that she was waiting for any opportunity to get out of it. 

Professor of International Affairs and Department Chair Bob Mandel, echoed Fallas’ excitement at the prospect of having in-person classes. 

“I was really yearning for the day when we could be back in person,” Mandel said. “And now that I’ve had two days in each class where that’s the case, it’s like I’m in heaven. That kind of fast paced, contentious, informative discussion is thriving.” 

One notable difference between the remote and in-person experience, according to Fallas, is the ability to connect with her peers. 

“I do enjoy the in-person experience more than online, because I thrive better in group settings where I get to talk to other people,” Fallas said. 

Many students and faculty members also expressed both frustration and appreciation for the hybrid model, which enables campus life to exist by minimizing the risk of an all-campus return. 

Mandel explained the technical limitations of remote learning, particularly for students who are exclusively remote. 

“No matter what system is used, the students who are virtual get kind of disadvantaged and it’s not because the teachers aren’t doing the right things,” Mandel said. “It’s that there are issues of hearing everything that’s being communicated properly, you know, (due to) settings in the microphones.” 

Fallas, on the other hand, advocated for the cognitive relief that hybrid classes provide. A blend of in-person and remote classes helped remedy some of the loneliness and screen fatigue that exclusively remote learning causes. 

Despite her enthusiasm for in-person learning, Fallas noted that the return to in-person felt rushed and awkward. She described that the transition back to on-campus living and in-person classes were moving very quickly, leaving little time to feel prepared.

Regardless, a return to some form of online seems unlikely due to LC’s case positivity being at 2.35 percent overall, and February having a 1 percent overall positivity rate. Some credit the delayed in-person start for the low positivity rate. During the three week delay, approximately 3,000 Covid tests were administered on campus between Jan. 1 and Feb. 11, making the ability to return to campus safer. 

“We don’t expect to have to return to online modality,” Suttmeier said. “Our positivity rates on campus have been well below our peer institutions, and we’re confident that the conscientious work of students, staff, and faculty alike will continue these trends.”

Dialogue about campus safety is ongoing and will likely continue as both state and federal COVID-19 guidelines change. On Feb. 7, Oregon Governor Kate Brown announced that the indoor mask mandate would be lifted no later than March 31. 

Mandel is excited for the prospect of the possibility of one day having classes, fully in-person with no masks.

“I keep hoping for full freedom because I think that’s where education works best,” Mandel said. 

Fallas believes that slowly moving forward to reduce COVID-19 restrictions is positive, but 

“I believe in protecting the safety and well-being of others first,” She said. “But if Oregon deems it safe to lift the mask mandate, then I think that the decision was made with informed reasoning.” 

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