By: Karoline Gonzalez – Student Journalist
Following a hectic year comprised of strict social distance, mask mandates, long periods of quarantine and isolation and what felt like endless zoom fatigue, Rutgers University is well on its path to start in-person learning after its remote adaption due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But what exactly does this mean for the students and faculty here at the Newark campus?
This past March, President Holloway issued a public announcement indicating the reopening of the university for the Fall semester followed by a statement from Chancellor Nancy Cantor. “We are eagerly looking forward to a predominantly in-person experience, with all students on campus in Fall 2021 fully vaccinated (with limited authorized exemptions for medical or religious reasons),” she said.
Regardless of the state and even nationwide urge for all Americans to receive the Covid vaccine, requirements for the vaccine in order to attend classes during the fall caused quite the stir amongst Rutgers students—many of which expressed discontent with such measures. In his statement, President Holloway listed various benefits of receiving the vaccine, some of which include the “face-to-face course offerings and academic experiences,” “expanded dining and recreation options at Rutgers,” and even the possibility of returning to a “pre-pandemic normal.”
A “pre-pandemic” normal, however, could well be something the public fails to enjoy for a long time. Though beaming with excitement at the prospect of welcoming students in person and conducting live, tangible lectures, many of the university’s personnel believe in the chance of falling victim to Zoom schooling once again, amongst them Professor Neva Fox from the Journalism department. “That’s always a possibility,” said Fox when asked about the likelihood of having to switch back to remote learning as a result of a surge in COVID cases, “I think it will be a possibility for a long time.”
Despite the regulations put in place by President Holloway, such as mandatory vaccinations for enrolled students—with limited exemptions for those with religious or medical requirements, faculty and staff at Rutgers agree that although possible, returning in person during the Fall is not entirely risk-free. “The Covid cases are dropping quickly, and fewer people are being hospitalized or dying,” said Professor Jim Pensiero from the Journalism department. “When I see thousands of people in a closed arena watching a basketball game and there’s no big spike in infections two weeks later, then I think we’ve turned the tide here. Yes, I think medium and large gatherings can be held, especially at our University.” To Pensiero, this does not mean that we can lower our guards and not remain vigilant, but that it’s part of the road to start living fully again.
Returning to the classroom after remote learning for over a year is overall promising. There is a wave of excitement and anticipation that comes with new beginnings, especially when new tools and methods of learning adopted during the pandemic can still be implemented. “I am very much looking forward to being on campus with colleagues and students, randomly running into people and catching up with them,” said Professor Mark Krasovic from the History department. “I plan to integrate more of the online tools we’ve become familiar with this past year into my teaching.” In an age where technology reigns over every aspect of our lives, it would be impossible to give up virtual tools entirely despite the future in-person class setting.