UNC students have mixed feelings about returning back to campus amid COVID-19 pandemic

Orange County News

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – In less than two months, thousands of students and faculty will be returning back to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for the fall semester.

But as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise, some students and professors have some concerns about whether it is safe to come back to campus.

Chad Lynch is a business administration major at UNC from Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Lynch said there were struggles when it came to learning online last spring.

“There were a lot of distractions in the class,” Lynch said. “Some people’s microphones weren’t muted, and it was a lot harder to understand.”

Lynch said he is ready to attend in-person classes again and he feels safe coming back to campus.

“I personally don’t think they would send us back to campus without it being safe,” Lynch said.

UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz told 60 Minutes that the university would not allow students, faculty, and staff to come back to campus if it was not a safe environment.

“There certainly are some risks, but we believe we are putting in place the right measures to mitigate that risk,” Guskiewicz told 60 Minutes.

Guskiewicz said the university will be starting classes in early August and the semester will finish just before Thanksgiving so that they can hopefully avoid a possible second wave.

The university is requiring masks be worn in class by students and professors.

Crews will also be disinfecting the dorms, classrooms, and athletic facilities.

Guskiewicz told 60 Minutes that a decision to not reopen campus could have hurt the university financially.

“We know that many students perhaps would’ve taken a gap year, or deferred their enrollment,” Guskiewicz said. “But I want to emphasize that our decision is based on creating that learning environment for students where we know that they can thrive and building all of these measures for safety.”

However, students and professors still do not know which classes will be held in-person and which classes will be online.

Ben Fortun, a UNC Ph.D. student from Los Angeles said he has concerns about attending in-person classes at UNC this fall.

“It’s dangerous,” Fortun said. “It’s going to endanger students.”

Fortun said both his parents contracted COVID-19 and he has seen what the virus can do.

“My dad had to spend time in ICU on a ventilator and he was close to death,” Fortun said. “My mom has a lingering cough.”

Fortun said he is hoping university officials will decide to teach all classes remotely rather than in-person.

“Bringing all of the students back from wherever they are across the country and putting them in dorms and classrooms is only going to drive up numbers in a state that already has numbers spiking.”

Some UNC professors are concerned they will be forced to teach in-person classes this fall.

Michael Palm, a UNC associate professor for the Department of Communications, is one of the professors who helped start a petition asking the university to not require faculty to teach in-person classes.

Palm said so far more than 600 people have signed the petition.

“It does seem like this is a moment to air on the side of caution, not optimism which is what the administration seems to be doing,” Palm said.

While it is still not known which classes will be in-person, Guskiewicz has said that the university is planning to provide flexibility for remote learning.

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