UT was not ready for us to meet in-person

Emily Caldwell

I’d like to say I can’t believe it, but I’d be lying. UT has once again failed to follow through on its promises, and students are unprotected. I’m tired of saying this probably as much as you’re tired of hearing it.

Wednesday was the first day of class, and I had planned out my day extensively. Here’s how it went:

    1. I had an in-person class at 2:30 p.m. and an online-only class right before it, beginning at 1:00 p.m. I knew I didn’t have enough time to get to campus after my 1:00 p.m. class ended at 2:15 and before my in-person class began, so I took the bus to campus an hour before my first class started, so I could figure out where I could virtually attend class on campus. 

    2. I eventually made my way to the Student Activity Center, which, by noon, was already filled with students who didn’t need to be there (to be clear, campus guidelines were not violated, but it felt more crowded than it should’ve been). I attempted to socially distance myself, but I struggled to find an empty seat away from the main areas. As I waited for my 1:00 p.m. class to start, I watched custodial staff arbitrarily wipe down surfaces and chairs while other students ate their Chick-fil-A without masks on. 

    3. The first thing I noticed when I walked into my 2:30 p.m. in-person class — uninhibited by a sign-in sheet or a Protect Texas Together QR code — were the zip-ties on the seats. As students began to filter in, the zip-ties seemed to cause more confusion and commotion than they were worth. Several students sat down on them by accident. They then walked down several rows before finding a non-zip-tied chair, even pushing past people already sitting down to get to the few open chairs left by the time class began.

    4. As our professor was walking around the room a few minutes before 2:30, he told us he was wondering if all 65 students in the class would actually have a seat to sit in.

    5. Once class began, I almost forgot we were in the middle of a global pandemic. It wasn’t until the end, when our professor told us to not all leave at once to not crowd the aisles, that I remembered I’m not supposed to be close to other people right now.

    When my 2:30 class ended, I wanted to get home as soon as possible. I saw and interacted with more people in those four hours on campus than I had in the past four months. This summer, the University sent email after email, telling us — or rather, attempting to convince us — that everything was in place and it was safe to come back to campus this fall. I am now more convinced than ever that it’s not. 

    There are so many problems I want to address, but I’ll stick to the big ones. No effort has been made to mitigate scheduling difficulties like mine. I’ve spoken to several other students who are equally at a loss. The last thing I want to do is spend more time on campus than I have to, but as a student who lives off campus (as many others do), 15 minutes is not enough time for me to get to campus.

    Second, there was no effort made to keep track of who attended my in-person class. No sign-in sheet, no QR code to scan for students with the Protect Texas Together app and no sense in the way the classroom was sectioned off with zip-ties.

    Perhaps scariest of all is I don’t know if the student who bumped into me as he maneuvered through the aisle to his seat during my in-person class felt sick, had been tested or even had the coronavirus, which is far from impossible or even improbable. Now, the University has no idea who he bumped into or that he even came to class at all. 

    UT is not special. We’re college students, just like the students at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, University of Notre Dame, North Carolina State University and Michigan State University. The only difference? Texas has the third highest number of COVID-19 cases in the country. 

    The Protect Texas Together app, UT’s commitment to contact tracing, the commitment to “protect Texas together” — it’s all a farce. They’re fancy buzzwords meant to obscure the University’s hollow efforts to protect students. UT zip-tied some chairs and said good luck. 

    At this rate, it’s a guessing game as to when UT will end up like UNC, or Michigan State, or Notre Dame, or worse, the University of Alabama, who’s refusing to shut down after more than 530 campus community members tested positive. 

    A friend joked with me the other day that the Texan should start an inner-office pool: how many days will it take for UT to shut down? 

    Interim President Jay Hartzell, come join our office pool. We’re all betting against you.

    Caldwell is a Latin American studies and journalism senior from College Station, Texas. She is the editor-in-chief.