September 28, 2020

Students concerned over COVID-19 take initiative

A senior created a petition to make in person classes voluntary, and the Conservatory created its own COVID-19 Task Force. In each case, students felt as though the university was not doing enough to enforce COVID-19 protocols.

Taylor Hickey asked herself “Am I going to die?” while fighting her COVID-19 diagnosis this past March. Hickey, a senior this fall, got her positive test back after her and her household thought they were safe. 

“We’re relatively healthy young people, we don’t do anything to put us on the list of [having] chances of dying higher,” Hickey said. 

Hickey suffered for a month dealing with various symptoms of COVID-19: chest pain, not being able to breathe and more. Hickey and her partner ended up with thousands in hospital bills. Hickey said the experience fueled her concern for others in her age group. 

“I’m signing this because I nearly died of COVID-19 back in April, and I will not watch my classmates experience the same pain,” Hickey commented on a Change.org petition titled “Webster University: Make In-Person Classes Voluntary.” 

This petition was created by Webster senior Danny Percival. Students created these initiatives who say they were left angered by the lack of attention given to COVID-19 protections and protocols from Webster’s COVID-19 Adaptability Task Force. 

The petition explains its concerns about possible COVID-19 outbreaks on campus and references the success of the Spring 2020 transfer to remote learning. It reads “We are petitioning Webster University to make the change that all students and faculty have the option to work, teach, and learn from home if they choose. This provides students and staff the opportunity to keep themselves and others safe, as well as allows those who struggle with online learning and require in-person classes to also be successful.” 

“I was going to send it to Webster, but I doubt they’d pay attention,”  Percival said. “I know they said some teachers could have their classes online, but it’s not fair that they’re not allowing students to make that decision as well.”  

Webster President Julian Schuster sent out an email to students on July 31 detailing that the school would offer classes in a variety of modalities.

Safety continues to be our number one priority, and we will continually adapt as we learn more about ways to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Schuster wrote. 

Junior Ajdin Bosnjak checks a student’s temperature before he enters the library. He also checks that the student’s daily health screening form is completed. Photo by Charlotte Renner.

Percival has already struggled with classes and ensuring his own safety. Within the first week, he noticed the lack of communication between students, staff, and administration. He references the administration’s emailed decision to let staff decide how their classes function this semester, saying the administration did not take a real stance. 

“There wasn’t really like a ‘This is THE decision’ or ‘I’m one hundred percent confident in this.’ There’s no good option,” Percival said. 

Not only does Percival see  a lack of communication within Webster’s community, but also an absence of agency and presence of ignorance. 

“I had two classes [in-person] with the same teacher, so I emailed him ‘Would you be willing to let me take these classes online’ and I never got a response,” Percival said. “I’ve seen people wearing their mask wrong and some of them are staff. I don’t know if they just don’t know how to wear it or it’s deliberate.” 

But, Percival is not the only one criticizing the university’s enforcement of COVID-19 protocols. The Webster Conservatory has created their own task force for COVID-19, meeting weekly with their teams within the Conservatory and voicing their concerns to advisors and other disgruntled students. 

Their new task force meets weekly, having students tell faculty advisors what is not working and the advisors in turn asking the department head if the students’ requests can be fulfilled. 

“We voice our concerns or processes that we think need to be implemented. [Our advisor] leads those meetings and acts as a liaison,” senior Nina Mead said. 

Smead, student head of the Conservatory’s prop shop, noticed a massive flaw in one of the university’s protections for students that must be in buildings on campus. 

“The lobby to get into the theater? I’ve gone there every night this week and there has not been one person at that front desk during hours,” Mead said, referencing the front desks of each building. Each desk is supposed to have personnel to “verify you passed your daily health screening” as described by Webster’s COVID-19 protocol site. 

The Conservatory students realized how unique their situation at Webster is, and decided to take initiative to ensure their own safety.

“Each department at the Conservatory has different procedures based on what is necessary,” Mead said. “We came up with a kind of guideline for what we think needs to happen when it comes to props. I made an Excel workbook for each prop for each show that has COVID specific paperwork.” 

Mead and her department hopes this implementation helps with contact tracing in a department so based around touching and sharing items. 

The students believe the process is disjointed and seems to be representative of the lack of communication with administration. They believe there is a different reason administration brought students back on campus. 

“They make a ton of money off of housing,” says Percival. “It’s kind of cynical, but I promise that’s part of it.” 

Hickey, aware of the effects COVID-19 can have on students, agrees. 

“I can’t imagine advertising yourself as an all-inclusive school then, when it comes to the health of the student body, putting little to no effort into us,” Hickey said. “At the end of the day, the people on the boards don’t actually care. They just want the profits.” 

Editor’s note: The Journal reached out to Webster specifically to offer the university a chance to respond to student concerns. Instead, a university spokesperson referred our reporter to the coronavirus messages which the university has released.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story had the incorrect spelling of Nina Mead’s name. We regret the error and apologize for it.

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