September 2, 2021

BARAN | Cornell, Please Provide Virtual Options for Isolated Students

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For the past three semesters, Cornell has done a wonderful job of providing classroom accommodations to students sick with the coronavirus. Most of those confined to isolation enjoyed recorded or live virtual lectures, excused absences leeway with assignment due dates. 

With the amount of  daily cases comparable to last winter and rising, it’s clear the pandemic has no plans to loosen its chokehold on America anytime soon. I, along with many of my peers, expected Cornell to provide similar accommodations for the students that were bound to become sick this semester.  

When I tested positive and entered quarantine last week, I quickly learned that Cornell has no such plans. In fact, the school is continuing to force sick students into isolation but doing very little to ensure we have the resources we need to succeed in our classes from home. 

In particular, the response from Student Disability Services (SDS) has been less than awe-inspiring. When Sam Kantor ’22 tested positive, he received an email from SDS stating that he “will be receiving an email from Student Disability Services asking if [he] want[s his] professors contacted.” After waiting days for the email to come, he did his own research and learned he had to fill out a request form in order for SDS to contact his professors. Meanwhile, others, including myself, received no such email and were unaware of SDS accommodations until they heard of them by word of mouth. 

Even if sick students receive accommodations via SDS, we are faced with the perplexing challenge of participating in classes while in isolation. The problem is a baffling one for many, as Cornell is refusing requests from faculty to institute remote learning options. 

“It’s actually been a pretty big problem for me,” says Charlotte Jones ’22. “Two of my professors say that the best they can do is [advise me] to go to office hours and review the lectures, which is obviously not sufficient. I will definitely be scrambling to catch up after this is over.” 

For many students, their professors have been their saving grace. Although Maddie Tashlik ’22 laments the lack of a Zoom option, she’s grateful to “have all the materials [she] needs to stay caught up and great professors who are helping [her].” Indeed, professors have been generally helpful, but it’s starkly obvious that they have been given little guidance or assistance in providing virtual accommodations for quarantined students. Unlike last semester, classroom policies and accommodations vary widely between professors. Some assure students they will provide resources without actually doing anything, a couple raced to design virtual options and one simply put out a vaguely unhelpful statement that COVID absences were built into the schedule. 

Sydney Diamond ’22 notes that the system doesn’t seem “equalized for students because students could happen to have a [less accommodating] set of professors and then be well behind someone else who happens to have professors who [make more of an effort]…it also just depends on what types of classes you take. If it’s purely textbook stuff it’s fine but if not you’re really really losing out.” 

Heading into what many thought would be their year to get the quality of learning they had been missing out on for the past several semesters, students are already losing out. Hundreds of Cornellians have been ordered to isolate and were promptly left stranded by their classes and the University. 

What changed so drastically from last semester? Clearly we expected the continued presence of COVID and the continued need for student isolation as evidenced from continued surveillance testing. So, why did the expectations for virtual classroom options disappear? 

It’s hard not to view the lack of accommodations as a punitive measure from Cornell. It’s true that many breakthrough cases are a result of informal off-campus gathering. However, lots of us have received the virus through innocent pathways. Neither transmission method gives Cornell the freedom to completely do away with virtual learning options for quarantined students. 

Cornell: as long as COVID-19 lingers in our community, isolated students need virtual learning options. Please listen to your professors, and allow them to substitute remote teaching for in-person instruction. 

Christian Baran is a senior in the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. Honestly runs alternate Fridays this semester.