UT student commuters may be challenged to find study space on campus due to new protocols to reopen campus for fall semester

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Photo Credit: Barbra Daly | Daily Texan Staff

Accounting senior Kristen Moehlman regularly commutes by bus from her North Campus apartment to the UT campus. As many classes have been converted to an online-only format this fall semester amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Moehlman is balancing consecutive in-person and virtual classes in a blocked schedule without enough time to return to her apartment. 

“The shift is inconvenient,” Moehlman said. “We're all struggling with this, (and) it’s been really frustrating honestly.”

Moehlman is one of the student commuters uncertain where to go on campus to take her online courses as she won’t have enough time to get back to her apartment for Wi-Fi and internet access. In an initial letter from Interim President Jay Hartzell outlining the reopening of campus for the fall semester, there was no mention of a plan to open popular study spaces, such as the undergraduate libraries, student activity centers and Texas Union.

“Every person in our community has unique circumstances and concerns to contend with during this difficult time,” Hartzell said. “We are also reimagining student life activities, to hold them either fully or partially online or in outdoor spaces.”

James Buckley, the director of facilities and operations for the University Unions, said the University plans to open the student spaces and vendors at the Texas Union and William C. Powers, Jr. Student Activity Center in August. Buckley said this plan is subject to change according to updated COVID-19 safety regulations, which could lead to the removal of some seating to maintain social distancing.

“A lot remains to be seen in terms of what the on-campus population is like with students, faculty and staff,” Buckley said. “We'll do our best to accommodate students as well as the campus community.”

According to the UT Libraries website, the libraries are currently operating in phase 3 of the Research Restart plan, which allows for contactless pickup of materials. All libraries are closed until further notice, according to the website.

As it is still unclear which campus buildings will be open in the fall, Moehlman said she hopes to change her schedule by getting off class waitlists. Her backup plan is to reserve a study room at the Perry-Castañeda Library once it opens before reservations are full. 

“I'm not super hopeful that (changing my schedule) is gonna work out,” Moehlman said. “I know a lot of other students are in my major who are in the same situation.”

Accounting senior Kyle Cruz, who is living in the Riverside neighborhood this year, is making plans for the scenario that his usual study spaces won’t be available or will be filled to capacity. Cruz said he hopes he finds a friend living in West Campus where he could watch his virtual class from their apartment before attending his in person class on campus.

“It would be impossible for me to finish my class here at 10:45 a.m. and then drive to campus and then walk to McCombs to make it to my 11 o'clock class,” Cruz said. 

Cruz said he thought the hybrid class format may be unnecessarily requiring students to go back to Austin to take in-person classes for their major. With social distancing in a classroom, Cruz said that even the confusion of both in person and online schedules aside, the college experience will be diminished.

““The reason why we go to an in-person university is for the cooperation and the enrichment of actually interacting with our peers,” Cruz said. “It takes away from the experience that we're all paying for.”