What happens if COVID-19 numbers rise?

Performance majors require access to Lilly Hall for adequate learning experiences. Collegian file photo.

ANNA SMITH | OPINION COLUMNIST | agsmith2@butler.edu

So we’re back to in-person schooling, and Butler went from zero to 100 real quick. Here’s the issue: if coming back to campus led to a minor outbreak in COVID-19 cases, which was bound to happen because we are 18- to 22-year-olds yearning for social interaction after six months of home-bound quarantine, how long are we hoping our return to class will last? 

Each member of the student body has taken losses to their educational experience during this global craze, but it’s no secret that students requiring direct access to Butler-owned facilities — such as dancers, artists, musicians and lab scientists — are especially feeling the effects of social distancing.

By no means am I insinuating that these students require priority, but if anything, I think that only allowing facility access to these students will allow for a safer, healthier Butler campus. Moving forward, if there were to be another rise in COVID-19 cases and we were to go back online, I am urging Butler administrators to reevaluate the needs of these students.

To make myself clear, I think that the emphasis on providing building access to these students alone is the only way to make sure that the full scope of their education can continue.

The students who rely on collaborative work, specific rehearsal spaces and materials supplied and housed by Butler are starving for hands-on, tactile experiences — the use of which will directly determine their future.

Dancers are unable to exercise their leaps, turns and technique in a 9-by-9 living room filled with carpet. Conductors cannot lead and instruct an ensemble over a lagging and pixelated Zoom call. Scientists do not have access to the chemical products or machinery that cause reactions, and biology students cannot effectively dissect an organism through a computerized program. And theatre students don’t have the access to critical materials in the set shop or the costume shop.

Not only this, but the majority of students in these fields of study require additional schooling and are counting on their undergraduate experiences to get them into top programs, many by audition and tactile experience.

Senior pharmacy student Nick Taylor commented on the consequences of not having access to supplies or lab materials. 

“When you’re dealing with different reagents, there are subtle nuances that you need to understand,” Taylor said. “For example, some medicines dissolve more easily in different liquids than others. It’s important to have those distinctions, which you get best from the hands-on part.”

Taylor further stated that reducing student contact across campus would ease the stress of attending labs and create a best-case scenario to receive crucial instruction in the safest way possible. 

“If we could cut down on the amount of student mixing involved in our classes, that would make us all safer,” Taylor said.

Some programs were able to figure out how to use Butler facilities in a safe and effective way, with little student mixing and proper social distancing before school even began.

Over the summer, the Butler Ballet program facilitated a successful socially-distanced week of classes, which made the removal of rehearsal space access for those first two weeks back at school even more frustrating.

The annoyances that accompanied online-only classes consisted of cramming dancers into small living quarters with problematic flooring, a lack of adequate space and no bars or mirrors.

Chiyo Nishida, a senior dance major, gave insight to what class has been like since returning to the studios in Lilly Hall.

“We always have bars that we share so we are always trying to wipe them down before and after we use, there’s 6-by-8 grids on the floor so we’re always six feet apart from each other,” Nishida said. “It’s a whole different feeling when you have live accompaniment and we have the profs there to actually look at you and correct you, and of course the space.”

What I think is also crucial to remember is that dancers rely on their college advancements to prepare for graduate school, something they are unable to approach without consistent dancing and experience.

“A lot of us are really scared of getting back and getting in shape because we have to start planning to film videos, send materials to companies and work on photoshoots,” Nishida said. “We don’t even know if we’ll have studios to film or take photos in, so there’s a lot of uncertainty.”

The work these dancers have to show for themselves as they continue their career are through documentations of physical talent. In a similar fashion, musicians rely on ensemble playing, and even if it is socially-distanced at the minute, it is much better than nothing.

Though performance majors need access to Butler facilities the most, non-performance majors feel they could also benefit from campus remaining open — even if only in part. Isaac McKinney, a sophomore psychology major in a pre-physical therapy track, discusses Fairview living as bearable and preferable to having to evacuate campus.

“I would much rather stay on campus for the sake of it being a little bit more of a sense of normality than being home, because you still have the people you’re living with, and I think we can definitely get by.”

McKinney also commented on how he doesn’t feel as though his schooling will be affected in the long run.

“I feel like overall, the toll that [online learning] takes on my overall career path, obviously depending on your career, but personally, I don’t think it has too great of a toll, I know for other majors that may be different.”

McKinney’s preference for on-campus living — combined with the relative ease of online classes within his major, and many majors alike — suggest a productive and adequate way of learning amidst a global pandemic. But it doesn’t account for students whose majors simply cannot function without in-person spaces to learn.

There is no winning when it comes to this global pandemic, but there are ways to minimize risk while potentially maximizing the collective collegiate experience.

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