Some Penn State students said they regarded the return to the fall semester with cautious optimism after Penn State President Eric Barron announced the university would not mandate vaccinations in a virtual town hall on Aug. 3, even though the university is “not impartial to them.”
An immediate indoor mask mandate soon followed for all students, faculty, staff and visitors.
Student Grace Martorano said she feels glad to be back on campus, even if she said she believes the university's coronavirus policies aren't ideal.
“I do wish [Penn State] mandated vaccines, it would work well, other universities have done it,” Martorano (junior-astrophysics) said. “Some of my friends go to Rutgers, and they have it.”
Ohio State University became the ninth Big Ten institution to enact a vaccine requirement on Aug. 24, following Minnesota, Indiana, Rutgers, Northwestern, Maryland, Illinois, Michigan and Michigan State. However, some of the aforementioned institutions will allow individuals to remain unvaccinated if they are tested weekly.
Despite the lack of a vaccine mandate, Ishaan Anavkar said he is “excited” to be back on campus.
“I took five semesters [with a full course load] online, and it was terrible,” Anavkar (senior-history and international politics) said. “It's hard to get up in the morning, hard to see friends.”
Since he said he believes it would be “extremely painful” to return to online classes, Anavkar said he is upset to see some of his fellow classmates skirting university coronavirus rules by not wearing masks in the HUB-Robeson Center or wearing masks half-down in class, for example.
“I get it, we're all sick of COVID-19, but I'm perfectly happy wearing a mask if it means we can be back in person,” Anavkar said.
David Mantilla said the return to in-person classes has definitely “benefited” him since he said his first year of college will be normal.
“I'm a freshman, so I don't have experience with [online instruction] last year, but my senior year of high school was so slow, '' Mantilla (freshman-criminology) said.
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Even though it won’t be the same as before the pandemic, Mantilla said adapting to Penn State’s coronavirus mitigation policies would not be a “drastic change” since his high school also required masks.
Graduate student Todd Chapman said he believes if safety measures — indoor masking and vaccination status — are in place, in-person classes will be “alright.”
Chapman (graduate-English) said after his first year of online classes, he said he believes in-person instruction is “far better.”
Lorraine Garday agreed with Chapman and said she “definitely” enjoys in-person class more.
Since some students like Garday (sophomore-immunology and infectious disease) are visual learners, watching their professor engage with a full lecture hall is far better than any Zoom slideshow.
Garday said Zoom was ineffective because “online [assignments] kinda felt like optional work, whereas in person, you have to show up to do the work.”
“I’m very confident having everybody back… we have a high amount of vaccinated people, [so] I fully support the decision,” student Jake Ernst said.
And although he said he does not support vaccine mandates, Ernst (senior-criminology) said he understands why some professors opt to continue teaching online due to the continued risk of coronavirus transmission.
Steve Morales said, despite being vaccinated, he does not agree with the enforcement of indoor mask requirements on campus.
“[Penn State does] all this stuff, but then [it goes and has] a concert on HUB lawn,” Morales (senior-computer science) said. “It doesn't make sense.”
In addition to large on-campus events, Penn State Athletic Director Sandy Barbour announced during an Aug. 21 press conference staff at Beaver Stadium would not check vaccination status or require negative coronavirus test results for fans at football games this fall. Masks are required indoors at Beaver Stadium but not in the stands or on the concourse.
Morales said he believes this represents a “conflict of interest” for the university since it enforces coronavirus mitigation policies unevenly across different areas of campus.
“The University recommends that everyone, particularly those who are not vaccinated, [wear] a mask in the stands and in the concourses,” Wyatt DuBois, university spokesman said. “The University is focused on consistently monitoring the state of the pandemic and has contingency plans in place should circumstances change and further mitigation measures are needed.”
Yet, Morales still expressed frustration with the continuation of the pandemic.
“It’s ridiculous… I hope COVID-19 ends soon — I think we're all getting tired of it.”
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