Kent State students react to university’s plan to return to campus for fall semester

KentWired Staff

In an email Friday morning, Kent State University’s reopening committees announced their plan to resume residential living and in-person classes in August as they are developing several scenarios to ensure a safe experience for our university’s community.

“We’re engaging over 100 faculty, staff and students in this process across all different areas of the university system. We really are developing a plan where we’re equitable, flexible and reasonable following CDC and state guidelines,” said Manfred van Dulmen, interim associate provost of Kent State University. 

Although in-person classes will resume, there will be notable differences during the next school year, according to the email. Students will likely enroll in a combination of face-to-face and remotely taught courses.

The university also established the Flashes Safe Seven Principles to guide the return to campus activity. Everyone on a Kent State campus will be asked to adhere to these operating principles to create what the email said was “the safest return possible.”

These principles include: 

  • Face masks or cloth facial coverings are required. The university is working to make face masks available for those who do not have their own. 

  • Community members must rigorously practice hand hygiene and cough etiquette. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. 

  • All employees will be required to clean and sanitize their workspaces and common spaces throughout the day, between shifts and at the close of each day. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones and keyboards. Classrooms will be cleaned on an enhanced schedule.

  • Social distancing guidelines will be strictly enforced requiring individuals to maintain at least six feet of separation from others. Supervisors will be assessing each workspace and classroom to determine an appropriate plan for social distancing in each area. This may include the installation of plexiglass, face shields, modifications to traffic flow and/or changes to work schedules. Replace in-person meetings with video or teleconference calls when possible.

  • All members of the university community must self-monitor daily for symptoms. COVID-19 symptoms include cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fever, chills, muscle pain, sore throat or a new loss of taste or smell. Other less common symptoms have been reported, including gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Employees showing symptoms of COVID-19 should leave work immediately and seek medical evaluation by calling your Primary Care Physician, DeWeese Health Center at 330-672-2322 or your local urgent care center. Students showing COVID-19 symptoms should isolate from others immediately and seek medical evaluation by calling DeWeese Health Center at 330-672-2322 or calling your Primary Care Physician. Always call ahead before seeking in-person medical help. Employees and students who are diagnosed with probable or confirmed COVID-19 will be contacted by their local health department and will be given additional guidance and instructions.

KentWired posted polls on Facebook and Twitter engaging students and members of the Kent State community to reach out and share their thoughts about the university’s plan to reopen campus in the fall.

Halle Sullenberger, an incoming freshman nursing major, was excited to hear the news about in person classes returning to some extent. 

“I’m going to be a freshman, so I was hoping for as much normalcy as possible,” she said. “So I’m excited, but I definitely know that precautions should be taken if we can’t go back to whatever the complete normalcy was before. But I’m definitely happy to hear that they’re planning on doing classes on campus.”

Sullenberger said she thinks she would be able to take some of her classes online if need be, specifically the ones that don’t require hands on work like labs. 

“If it keeps everyone safe in the long run, I think it’s the smartest thing to do to make some things online,” she said.

Caitlin Anderson is a sophomore triple major in entrepreneurship, marketing and human resources with a minor in leadership. She is excited about the return back to campus in the fall.

“It’s hard to concentrate on schoolwork at home, so I can’t wait to be able to use the library and other resources again,” Anderson said. “I missed being at Kent State more than I thought I would.”

But due to her major, she thinks most of her classes will be moved online.

“My major doesn’t require a lot of hands on work, so it’ll be easy to move everything online,” Anderson said. “I hope that’s not the case though.”

Moving forward, she believes colleges will be more prepared for a situation like this in the future, and that Kent State has handled the situation well.

“The staff has worked with me to help me answer any questions I have,” Anderson said. “They have also made sure everyone knows what is going on. They’ve done a good job.”

Ezra Silkes will be a sophomore in the fall and double majoring in theatre design, technology and production and integrated LGBTQ religious studies. While going back to school will be beneficial for his hands-on classes that cannot be effectively taught online, he is also “very, very, very apprehensive.” 

Silkes believes the “Flashes Safe Seven Principles” Kent State announced are not possible to enforce. 

“I don’t trust college students to follow these rules at all times, and I don’t trust them in frat houses,” Silkes said. “I don’t trust them when they’re off campus. I think that will cause a hotspot of disease, and people are going to get sick and probably die and I think that’s a very terrible thing.”

For Silkes, he believes that going hybrid for all of the classes would be the best decision. He said he prefers to be mostly online for the full semester. 

“If I was running this, which obviously I am not, I would probably do everything lecture [-wise] online and then only the classes that absolutely need to be in person, be in person,” Silkes said. 

In addition, there are many students and professors at Kent State that could be considered high risk for COVID-19.

Professors go home every day to their families, and may be endangering more people because they are coming back to school and teaching hundreds of students. And students often visit friends and family, creating another potentially risky point of contact. 

Students who are high risk may also be living on campus, surrounded by other students that could be asymptomatic. 

“From what I’ve seen, when colleges are discussing reopening plans, no one addresses the fact that there are students who will die if they get COVID because they have pre-existing medical conditions,” Silkes said. “And that those students are just as valuable members of the student body as any other student.”

Silkes said he hopes to get a useful, beneficial education somehow, and that there isn’t a second wave of COVID-19 that shuts down the university again, but he is doubtful. 

“I suspect that Kent will shut down at some point again,” Silkes said. “I hope to be able to manipulate my schedule so that I feel safe, like I can make choices on campus that don’t endanger me or the people around me. I hope that those are options. And I hope that other college students are also thinking of this and I hope that college students as a whole, don’t automatically assume that we’re back to normal just because we’re on campus.”

Some students are less concerned with how university operations will resume in the fall. 

“I believe in the student body to be mindful of the still present danger and agree to follow set health codes,” Bailey Dwyer, a sophomore journalism major, said.

Dwyer said she agrees with the university’s decision and that resuming the fall semester on campus was the best decision. She believes that most faculty do not, or will not, receive the proper training to “actually successfully teach online classes for classes that are not intended to be online.”

Other students, like Brett Sottasanti, a Kent State hospitality management junior, are looking forward to resuming classes in-person next semester.

“For me, there’s just a lot of advantages to being on campus for the semester rather than have it be online,” he said. “I wasn’t a fan of remote learning.” 

Sottasanti said he struggled to learn through virtual classes. He acknowledged a lack of engagement for him when it came to the matter.

“A lot of it for me felt like busywork because there‘s not much professors can do to teach,” he said. “I’d opt for in-person lectures rather than staring at a screen learning nothing.”

Sottasanti decided to make two of his classes pass/ fail this semester due to difficulties with remote learning.

“It’s not that I’m a bad student,” he said. “A few of my classes just became too challenging because I didn’t have the resources I needed.”

Sottasanti said there are other reasons he’s looking forward to the fall semester besides in-person learning.

“It’ll just be nice to have all my friends back in Kent again,” he said. “Having everyone go home when the campus closed just made it pretty lonely for me.”  

Sottasanti is heavily involved on Kent State’s campus. He is a First Year Experience student teacher and is involved in the gender-inclusive honor fraternity Phi Sigma Pi.

“Not only did classes go online, but a lot other things for me stopped,” he said. “I’m definitely excited to get back into a normal routine.”

When asked if he’s worried about safety come the fall, Sottasanti said no.

“I’ll be wearing a mask, I’ll be socially distancing and I know Kent State is going to do everything they can to make sure we’re all safe,” he said.

Spencer Forrest, an incoming fashion merchandising senior, also agrees with returning to campus in the fall with the guidelines put in place by the university, but is still a little hesitant. 

“I am excited to return to in-person classes, but I’m not sold on it,” Forrest said. “I don’t want to be in a space with a couple hundred students, it worries me.”

Forrest, who is used to hybrid classes, thinks that could be a solution to some classes in the fall.

“I’ve had hybrid classes before and I think the university has to give options because not everyone is going to succeed with straight online courses,” Forrest said. “The university needs to leave that up to the student who knows how they learn best.”

Forrest also believes the guidelines for the fall semester were sent out too early.

“I think the response was sent out too early because we still have over three months till the school year starts,” Forrest said. “The school sent out things a little hesitantly and if another major university decides they are not returning to campus then Kent might follow suit.”

Forrest then expressed more of his concerns about returning and how campus would be different. He said he’s not seriously worried in this situation, but hopes there are options and resources available to students who need them. 

“If we do go back in the fall, I hope the students who have anxiety, or who have actual physical illnesses are able to have the opportunity to stay home or do what is best for them, so they don’t have to feel worried or go through anything that might be an inconvenience for their work,” he said.

Joshua Devera, a freshman digital media production major, also thinks the university released the announcement about the fall semester too soon and is also concerned about what the situation in residence halls will be. 

I don’t necessarily disagree with the university’s plan, but I think we are too far out from knowing if any plan put forward at this time will be safe enough for students and staff members, especially for residence hall situations,” Devera said.

Kristen Kubek, an incoming fashion merchandising sophomore, agrees with returning to campus, but is interested to see how policies will be enforced.

“I think it will be frustrating to wear a mask all the time in public spaces, especially if you are going to study for hours in the library,” Kubek said. “Even being outside with a mask because it will be hot in the fall, but I understand why they have to do it.”

Kubek also agrees that hybrid courses could be a good  solution to some classes. Kubek, who is an honors student, has some classes with only about 25 students and hopes to be able to attend those in person as she said the point of those smaller classes is to get that individualized attention and group atmosphere.

In response to the guidelines put in place, Kubek also feels the university should have waited a bit longer.

“The university should have waited because I don’t want to get my hopes up and then be disappointed if we don’t go back in the fall, especially because I already bought stuff for my dorm,” she said.

When asked about her concerns, Kubek wants to make sure others are being responsible and adhering to the guidelines as well.

“Until there is a vaccine, there’s always that risk of getting COVID-19,” she said. “I trust myself with my decisions, but I don’t know if I trust everyone else. When you’re in an atmosphere where there are many students, it’s going to be kind of tricky as to how safe you feel. At the same time it’s college and it’s an experience thing.”

Sophie Kannberg, a third year photography major in Kent State’s Bachelor of Fine Arts program, also struggled when classes went online in the spring semester and is concerned with how she will successfully pursue a career in her field without in-person studio courses during the fall semester. 

After Kent State transitioned to remote learning March 10, Kannberg said photography professors were forced to significantly alter students’ assignments. “We pretty much scrapped all of the projects we had planned,” she said. 

Kannberg said remote learning lessens photography students’ opportunities to build their portfolios. The photography program is largely studio and project based, so without professional equipment and models, photo projects were a challenge.

“One of my photo professors even told me he was giving me a pity “A” because he knew with the circumstances, this was the best I could do,” she said. “But if we weren’t remote and I turned in that kind of work, he definitely would have failed me.”  

While Kannberg persevered through her remote photography courses, other courses were more difficult online and she also made one of her classes pass/fail because she couldn’t get the grade she was originally expecting to get.

Kannberg said many of her peers in the photogram program may take a semester off if Kent State’s courses are entirely online. She hopes the university considers all majors and course types when making plans for the fall semester. 

“The photo classes are so, so small, and even the 16 of us in the same classes—we’re even split between two or three studios. So we’re already in real small, four to five clumps of studio spaces,” she said. “I hope they don’t overlook the School of VCD.” 

Kannberg said she won’t argue if the university thinks it isn’t safe to return to in-person courses this fall, but she will continue to advocate for her major. 

“I hope that everything is stable enough that we’re able to safely return to Kent,” she said. “I miss my college campus.”

Maria McGinnis, Sara Crawford, Jenna Borthwick, Kelsey Paulus, Troy Pierson, Kaitlyn Finchler, John Conley and Connor Steffen contributed to this report.