Students and faculty react to a ‘normal’ fall 2021 semester

Butler announced plans for a ‘normal’ fall 2021 semester. Collegian file photo.

SOPHIA ESTES | STAFF REPORTER | sestes@butler.edu

On March 2, Butler sent out an email and video informing students about their plans for a “fully restored on-campus experience” in the fall of 2021. In the announcement, the university said that they are cautiously optimistic for a return to the normal academic calendar in the upcoming semester. 

Reactions on campus among students and faculty have been mixed following the announcement’s release. Some are hopeful, while others are slightly more concerned with the email’s timing. 

Raziya Hillery, a junior political science, international studies and Spanish triple major, said she thought the announcement’s strategy was a bit aggressive. 

“I immediately thought that it was a pretty ambitious goal, but I am already super hopeful… I think that no matter how good and hopeful it gets with students though we shouldn’t stop wearing masks and stop social distancing because of these announcements,” Hillery said. “So I was a little worried about that.”

Others read the announcement with little surprise. Paul Hanson, a professor in the department of history and anthropology, said he saw the email coming.

“The announcement didn’t surprise me,” Hanson said. “It was obviously cautiously expressed, and we’ll have to wait and see how things go here in the next few months… certainly I think everyone is hopeful that we’ll be able to be back in a more or less normal atmosphere next fall.”

Lily Hall, a sophomore elementary education major, also expressed uncertainty about what the fall may bring; she said that she feels the announcement might be premature. 

“I think it’s exciting that things might be back to normal in the fall, but also we’re just now coming up on a year [since the beginning of the pandemic] so I feel like it hasn’t been all that long,” Hall said. “I feel like now that vaccines are out and numbers aren’t nearly as bad as they were, people are starting to think that everything is going to go back to normal, which I feel like is happening way too fast… So it might be a little too soon, but I guess we’ll just see what happens in the fall.”

Both students and Hanson expressed their apprehension about how the announcement might impact campus attitudes — not only Butler students’ behavior the rest of the year, but also for behavior around the country. All three pointed to the fact that Texas’s governor just ended their mask mandate as a clear example of this potential lack of alertness moving forward. 

Hillery said that the actions of other states could affect how the fall semester goes at Butler.

“I think [the fall plan] is realistic, but we have to stay vigilant and focused on, like I said, wearing masks and social distancing,” Hillery said. “And I think that the actions of certain governors this week go against that. So, if we’re setting these goals, we’re probably not going to be able to attain them if states start doing that a lot more over the summer.”

Hillery has been a commuter this year amid the pandemic, and she said she plans to remain a commuter next year. When asked if getting the vaccine would change her mind or make her feel more comfortable, she admitted that she would likely operate in much of the same way she has been now: cautiously. 

“I’m planning on getting the vaccine when it’s available to me… I’m gonna ease myself into it because I have heard of people still getting symptoms of COVID and I don’t want to endanger myself or anyone else,” Hillery said. “So once I get the vaccine, I’ll probably still stay low.” 

Hanson is part of the age group that has had the opportunity to receive the vaccine already, and has been teaching fully remote this year. He said he plans on returning to campus for the 2022-23 school year. This decision is based on his plans to be on sabbatical this upcoming year. He said his decision not to return in the 2021-22 school year doesn’t have anything to do with the safety of campus. 

“I am very much planning and hoping that in 2022-23 we will all be back in the classroom and I won’t be sitting at my house on Zoom all day long,” Hanson said.

With this announcement and the questions it has answered for the community, it has also simultaneously created new questions. Some of those questions are centered around just how Butler is going to transition things on campus. Hall said she wonders about the specifics of this transitioning process. 

“What all do they mean by ‘opening back up campus?’ What does that entail?… Are sororities and fraternities going to be able to do stuff, or is it solely Butler events that are still going to go on?” Hall said. “And even if those do go on, are they still going to practice social distancing, are we still going to have to wear masks?”

Hanson noted that because of the pandemic, the university has cut back on jobs, and he wonders if those jobs will return with the transition back to a “normal” college experience. 

“One of the responses to the pandemic this past year was to cut back on the employment of acting instructors and adjuncts, and that clearly had an impact on the curriculum, on the array of courses that we were able to offer,” Hanson said. “So I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to recover some of those positions in the coming year and get back to something a little closer to what we were offering two years ago.” 

Among all of the uncertainty and questions for next year, students and professors alike said that they are hopeful for the future and are eager to move things forward, just as safely as possible. Hanson said that the pandemic has definitely caused some reflection. 

“There’s lots of talk in higher education and in public schools as well about technology and what it allows us to do,” Hanson said. “But for me, at least, one thing that’s very clear about the experience of this past year is that there is nothing that can fully replace the experience of being in a classroom, face to face with a professor and a group of students, zeroing in on a topic that everybody is interested in.”

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