Marquette University must listen to members of the Marquette community as it moves forward with the intent to offer in-person classes during the upcoming fall semester amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Despite increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases in both the Milwaukee area and previously on campus, the university has remained determined to host all students on campus this fall with a mix of in-person, online and hybrid classes. With no current allowance for students or faculty to choose remote learning instead of taking in-person classes, this plan is endangering lives in our community.
Numerous groups within the Marquette community have expressed that they want more control over their fall plans.
I conducted a student survey in collaboration with the Marquette Wire to see how the Marquette community felt about the university’s plans to reopen during the ongoing pandemic. The survey accumulated 944 anonymous responses. It was published on Marquette Wire social media and accepted responses for 7 days.
Approximately 41% of respondents said they are displeased or extremely displeased with the university’s reopening plan and level of communication. Furthermore, 25.9% said they would feel unsafe or very unsafe on campus with the current plan.
The responses to our survey confirmed that students care about changes being made for the upcoming semester and have input to give. It is time for Marquette to listen.
The desire for a remote option is clear from our student survey, in which 87.7% of respondents believe students should be able to opt out of dormitory living this fall and 79.3% think Marquette should offer a completely online option. Approximately 73% of surveyed students also said professors should have the choice to teach remotely.
Additionally, a student petition for a distance-learning option has 221 signatures as of July 29. The petition is calling upon Marquette to prioritize student safety and allow students to move completely online. The university has refused to allow this option and has stated that Marquette students fulfilling the two-year residence hall living requirement will likely be denied exemption requests. An obligation to campus living may subject students to unsafe conditions against their will.
Marquette faculty and staff have also spoken out about their concerns for returning to campus for the fall semester.
Over 100 Marquette faculty and staff have signed an open letter urging the university to reconsider fall plans and offer a remote teaching option. Currently, professors must request special permission to work from home even though many Marquette faculty are at higher risk of hospitalization or death due to COVID-19 based on the average professor age being 55 years old in the United States.
The circulation of these petitions, as well as the university’s silence regarding them, is what ultimately led to the creation of our student survey. I wanted to know the priorities and concerns of the student body because I believe that students deserve to be heard by our administration.
Marquette’s denial of distance-learning options appears to stem from confidence that precautions to prevent COVID-19 transmission can be upheld on campus. However, Marquette has not asked students about their willingness to comply with safety measures, and without consensus between the university and student body these precautions will not be effective. In our student survey, 12.4% of Marquette respondents stated they were not willing to comply with all guidelines for social gatherings and 18.9% said they were not willing to comply with dormitory restrictions.
With nearly 12,000 undergraduate and graduate students on campus, it will be difficult for the university to limit students’ social habits.
Other surveys across the country have revealed that students may not disclose mild COVID-19 symptoms and may choose not to follow distancing guidelines during social events. This is further evidenced by the nearly 120 University of Washington fraternity members that tested positive for COVID-19 in June.
Ultimately, 29.5% of those who responded to our survey do not think the university should move forward with plans to open this fall.
In the time of a global pandemic, we must recognize that increased illness and grief will have detrimental impacts on students, as will the stress of a forceful return to an unsafe environment.
As a Jesuit institution, Marquette strives to uphold cura personalis, or “care of the whole person.” The university has a responsibility to place human lives above all else. If in-person instruction is offered this fall, each individual must be allowed to decide if returning to campus is worth risking serious illness or death.
This story was written by Natalie Allen, a Marquette student who volunteered to write this article. She is not a staff member for the Wire. She can be reached at email@example.com.