What is the standard?


Baruch College

Regina Kelley

We have been attending “Zoom college” since March of 2020. The semesters have come and gone, as our student body has been repeatedly told that we are going to continue “virtual learning.” For most students, that means they’re going to continue to learn virtually nothing.

I join my zoom classes each day with a steaming cup of black coffee at my desk. Normally, it is pretty quiet since most of my siblings do their schoolwork downstairs in our dining room. My only distraction is my older brother, who is finishing up his math degree while whistling or explaining complicated math theorems aloud to himself.

My mom pops in sometimes to enjoy the warmest room in the house for a few seconds, which comes courtesy of a fancy space heater she bought from Amazon for us Zoom students.

Although this seems like a work environment conducive to studying and productiveness, every day it gets harder to put the cup of coffee on my old Ikea desk to start the day.

After the coffee, my day goes off a precipice. I miss my friends. I miss being in a classroom face-to-face with professors and other students. I miss having meaningful and interesting discussions in class.

It used to feel like we were all sharing a college experience together but now it seems that we are all disconnected.

I am a Mathematics major and I love math, but trying to learn Calculus III and Vector Calculus through Zoom isn’t easy. Classes have greatly declined in quality, but through no fault of the teachers because it isn’t easy for them to teach remotely. In fact, many of my teachers explain that they cannot implement the same standards on zoom as when they do in-person classes, whether those standards have to do with test taking, in-class activities or participation. It is also very hard for students to form relationships with our professors, which is especially frustrating if we are looking for recommendation letters or mentors.

At the end of every semester, Baruch sends out a survey asking questions about our virtual learning experience. Based on what I’m hearing from friends and classmates, there is widespread dissatisfaction — but no change comes from the administration. They tell us how deeply they feel our pain but that we still cannot go back to school or sports.

But why? What is the standard for us to go back to school? What does the infection rate have to be? How many people have to be vaccinated? How much testing is required?

Instead of answering these questions, CUNY leaves the students of Baruch in the dark. We aren’t given a standard. As far as we know, we could be mostly online again in Fall 2021.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 cases have declined 74.9%since January 11th, 2021 and 30% of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of the vaccine. Dr. Saphier, who is a physician at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and an assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medical College, wrote an OPED for the Wallstreet Journal that we can have masks off by June .

According to the CDC, 25-year-olds have a 0.01% fatality rate and according to a study from Israel, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine stops the spread of COVID and decreases the fatality rate by 99%.

Let me get this straight. I’m still at home since “two weeks to slow the spread,” not playing any sports or attending any in-person classes. I’m paying more than $7,000 a year in tuition because of a virus that is declining in cases, has an extremely low fatality rate for college-age students and has a vaccine that is being rolled out that greatly decreases the already low fatality rate. So, why are we still at home?

The icing on the cake is that I am offered no explanation as to why my life is being shut down. I played tennis and softball at Baruch. I use the past tense because, well, it has been a year since I have played. The sports season for Spring 2021 was recently cancelled in an email starting with the all-too-familiar words, “With the ongoing unprecedented challenges of the global COVID-19 pandemic …” We still get vague emails about what the plan is for the Fall in terms of in-person classes.

We have had CUNY town halls where student-athletes ask questions, many of which, no one has answers to. I was on one call for our Student Athlete Advisory Committee and a few of my friends on the baseball team asked how student athletes can help Baruch teams get back to playing. Unfortunately, they were met with no substantial answer.

Assistant Athletic Director Carrie Thomas said that even she didn’t know who voted on having sports. She said, “the vote comes from — I don’t even know who it comes from, to tell you the truth.”

One player made the point that other conferences in New York are playing sports. He asked why we don’t just have a list of things we can do in order to play because other conferences have already made it happen. He said, “Come to us, come to coaches, come to the athletic department and say, ‘All right, guys, these are the things we need to get done,’ and I guarantee, I guarantee we can get them done.”

My friends started a petition, talked to the CUNY commissioner, offered to fundraise and sign waivers, but to no avail. We still don’t know what, if anything, would bring us back to the classroom and the courts and playing fields we miss so much.

We ask for answers and don’t receive any. We are expected to sit at home and not play sports or attend in-person classes due to the “ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic” for an indeterminate period of time, with no knowledge of when it might end. It’s time to create guidelines for going back, and tell the students forthrightly what they are.