The University recently held several focus groups to get student feedback on fall reopening plans, including intentions to return to campus.
Sara Kennedy, director of strategic and executive communications for the Office of the Dean of Students, said the groups focused on health guidance policies created by the Health and Wellness working group, one of the six committees dedicated to planning for the fall reopening. Kennedy said students’ opinions will make “a direct impact.”
“The goal for all the planning focus groups was to ensure that the student voice was included in the planning process,” Kennedy said in an email. “Participants were also reminded that not every suggestion will be possible to implement, but all feedback is important and valuable.”
Many Senate of College Councils members took part in the groups, said Sameeha Rizvi, co-chair of Senate’s Equity and Inclusion Committee.
“I really wanted to see what administration or their spokesperson was really saying and voice the same thing as many other people about how a lot of us are still really uncertain with what's going on,” said Rizvi, a public health and social work sophomore.
Rizvi and Shubhi Nanda, co-chair of Senate’s Equity and Inclusion Committee, said the group was asked how they felt about reopening policies and if they would be coming back to campus. Rizvi said she voiced her concerns about custodial staff safety while other students talked about their inability to get out of apartment contracts.
“A lot of individuals in that focus group were being basically forced to come back because … the contract itself won't let them get out of it,” Rizvi said. “And it was just something that's really alarming because a lot of students were talking about how they would prefer to stay home if they could.”
Rizvi said her group supported online academic advising but wasn’t sure if Counseling and Mental Health Center appointments should be in-person or not. Nanda said she expressed her worries over returning to campus.
“I definitely shared my hesitation with coming back on campus since I do have to come back because I saw the cases increasing … and it's scary having to go back to school in such an environment,” Nanda said. “They're doing as much as they can, but there are also some outward factors that perhaps they can't even control as a school.”
At the same time, Rizvi said she struggles to see the point of the focus groups. She said students have continually voiced their opinions with seemingly little response from UT, particularly about fall tuition remaining the same whether students choose to take classes remote-only or on-campus.
“A lot of us don't feel safe coming back, and the fact that the University's prioritizing ... tuition (is) really alarming because a lot of people are saying the same exact thing … but there's not really any change being made on that end,” Rizvi said.