Guest Viewpoint

(Maisie Plew/Emerald)

Editor’s note: James Croxton was previously a news reporter at the Daily Emerald.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written for the Daily Emerald. This time, I’m not writing in an  official capacity but instead as a concerned student.

I’m — understatedly — concerned because, after over a year of online learning due to the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was put into a tight room with virtually no social distancing on my first day of class. 

Don’t get me wrong, though. Online learning was a struggle for me and definitely not something I would willingly choose to do — at least I thought. 

There are 33 students in my class according to Canvas and, according to the University of Oregon’s Academic Scheduling chart, the classroom I am in has a maximum occupancy of 40 individuals, including the professor. 

In a room of that size, it is seemingly physically impossible to seat people at the desks in accordance with the current Center of Disease Control guideline of social distancing at least six feet apart. 

During class, I sat on the edge of a row as I often do. I hoped that the one seat next to me would remain empty but, an hour later into class, someone came in and sat next to me in one of two open chairs left in the classroom.

At that point, there were four people around me with less than two feet of distance in-between. One in front of me, one behind me, one directly to my right and the fourth to my left in one of the empty seats with no table.

And don’t even get me started on the hand sanitizing stations throughout campus for which about two out of every three that I tried to use was empty. 

After class, I drove home and vented about my experience to several of my colleagues at Double Sided Media and members of my family. 

My concern escalated to anger the next morning. 

I had optimistically, or stupidly, hoped that my experience was a singular one until I opened the Twitter app on my phone and, for some convenient reason, immediately saw what the university’s Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation had posted. 

It wasn’t just me; the GEs were also experiencing the same things I did. 

“I’m GE’ing a class that’s just shy of 400 students, which means there’s no option for social distancing,” a tweet from the GTFF said. 

Another stated that “I don’t have a HEPA filter in my classroom, and in order to maintain proper ventilation I’m not allowed to open the windows” and that “heat being on + masks + cramped over-enrolled classroom + inability to open windows = a recipe for disaster.”

GEs are also, apparently, under a stricter mandate than that of regular UO academic life. 

A screenshot of a text posted by the GTFF reads “GE space is locked with a supposed max capacity of 2 while the classrooms down the hall are open with a capacity of 26."

I also learned that teachers, if they are six feet away from students, don’t have to wear a mask. Does that include my professor who wore a mask but coughed several times? 

So, University of Oregon, I have to ask: why? 

Are we packed together without proper social distancing because you introduced the “largest, most diverse, and most [academically] high achieving” freshman class of over 4,600 students this year? After all, that’s a lot of money, right? Especially, when you mandate that first-year students pay for board and meals and live on campus. 

If you average out all of the housing options for freshmen at the Carson Limited meal plan level, you’ll get a total of $15,153. Multiply that with the approximate number of students without any exemptions — 4,600 — and you’ll get a grand total of $69,703,800. Even with exempted students, there’s still an undeniably considerable sum.

So, University of Oregon, I ask: why?

Social media is already buzzing with testimonial after testimonial about people’s experiences with overcrowding and lack of distancing  — and we’re just starting the term. 

We are ringing the alarm. We are scared. Why aren’t you?