The Erb Memorial Union (EMU), the center for student activities, is empty during the summer. The EMU lawn is often populated by students during the school year. The University of Oregon’s campus operations have new regulations due to the circumstances of COVID-19. By August 26th, if the University believes that they do not have the ability to manage COVID-19, they will seek out more limited options for students, faculty and staff. (Kevin Wang/Daily Emerald)

Members of the University of Oregon communications team organized a meeting on July 20 with the ASUO communications team to gather student feedback on UO’s COVID-19 communications and concerns about the upcoming school year. Prior to the meeting, ASUO communications reached out to students on Instagram, asking how they felt about university communications and returning to campus as a whole.

“The general feel we got from students is that they’re very unsure right now and very wary of going back to campus,” ASUO Communications Director Sierra Goerlich said. “They don’t really know how things are going to work and how guidelines are going to be followed.” Goerlich forwarded the student feedback to Argy Maniatis, UO Assistant Vice President for Marketing and Brand Strategy.

The ASUO communications team shared their own concerns about returning to campus, along with their feedback about the university’s communications about the coronavirus. The UO and ASUO communications teams discussed several types of COVID-19 messaging, including the coronavirus update emails, signs the university will post around campus and an article from Around the O about two students’ experiences with the coronavirus.

“We felt the emails weren’t entirely too serious, nor the best way to get information to everyone,” ASUO Press Secretary Sam Simonett said. “Our main goal is to convey the student experience and student thoughts, but also better the current communications. Because they can be better. They totally can be better.”

Simonett also encouraged the UO team to deliver COVID-19 updates through social media and utilize personal, impactful stories to convey the severity of the pandemic. Helping students stay as safe as possible is the primary purpose of changing UO communications surrounding COVID-19, according to Simonett.

“They were really open to hearing all our responses from students,” Goerlich said about the university’s communications team, “and open to being very flexible about switching their messaging around so that students can feel safe and feel more comfortable.”

The UO communications team has been reaching out to other student groups for feedback on their messaging. The Division of Student Life will be sending a survey as part of a 2020 Global Pandemic Student Perspectives Study to students this week via their UO email. The survey will collect additional student concerns and feedback regarding the UO COVID-19 communications.

“The survey will help us assess our current service model and encourage a healthy, safe and nondiscriminatory environment at UO this fall,” UO spokesperson Saul Hubbard said.

“It’s really important that we hear from our students and get that student voice represented,” Maniatis said.

“We’re not all-knowing,” Hubbard said. “We don’t always know the best way to reach students and what messaging will be effective.”

Goerlich said she believed UO’s COVID-19 communication could have a significant impact on students’ perception of the pandemic and therefore hoped that the university would adequately depict its severity.

“I’m from New York, personally, and I saw how awful it can get here,” Goerlich said. “I’m so scared of going back to campus and everything just falling apart because people aren’t taking it seriously.”

Simonett also believed that UO communications can greatly influence students’ reactions toward the virus. “I really, really believe that if the university takes it seriously and portrays serious communications, the student body is going to understand that and want to take the situation seriously,” Simonett said.

Both Maniatis and Simonett said they plan to have more meetings between the UO and ASUO communications teams. “We’re not going to stop being worried and we’re not going to stop amplifying student voices,” Simonett said. “We’re going to have many more meetings with the communications team.”

Claire is a news reporter for the Daily Emerald. Send her news tips at cwarner@dailyemerald.com