By Daniel Wu
Students voiced concerns about mental health, online instruction and University communication to Stanford’s Fall Planning Committee at Tuesday evening’s Undergraduate Senate meeting over Zoom.
Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Stephanie Kalfayan and history professor Aron Rodrigue, co-chairs of the committee, which is planning for a coronavirus-affected fall quarter, attended the meeting to solicit feedback from students and senators. Before fielding comments, Kalfayan and Rodrigue provided a brief update on the University’s decision-making process.
“An important thing to underscore is that no decisions have been made about next year,” Kalfayan said.
She and Rodrigue described the considerations that are dictating the committee’s decision, noting that the University does not expect a vaccine for COVID-19 to be available by fall and that precautions including social distancing and face covering would need to be implemented on campus if students return. Social distancing would additionally preclude the sharing of dorm rooms, and large lecture classes would “probably” not be able to be held in person.
Kalfayan echoed an announcement made by Stanford administrators on Tuesday afternoon, reporting that the University is considering hybrid options of remote and in-person instruction for fall quarter, but is also leaving open the possibility of another fully online quarter.
“We’re trying to think about possibilities to have certain groups of students on campus, taking classes in person and remotely, and other students doing that from a distance,” Kalfayan said. “But we’re still preparing for a possibility that we may have to be completely remote again, all of fall quarter.”
“None of it is desirable,” she added. “There’s nothing about next year that’s going to make anybody happy, quite frankly.”
In response to student questions, Kalfayan said a decision about the grading system to be used next quarter “has not been made.” She did not comment on a question about tuition. According to her, the Fall Planning Committee is also “actively thinking about options for summer [quarter].”
Students and senators in attendance also shared various concerns about fall quarter and the potential of prolonged online instruction. Many spoke about the issue of student mental health amid online classes, as well as the isolating effects of social-distancing requirements.
“It is incredibly difficult to take classes online, to sit at a computer from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. or whatever time and then be expected to then do our homework, do our jobs, etc., help at home,” said Senator Michael Brown ’22. “… I also have a lot of concerns about what it means for someone to be back on campus, but to be in the room alone all day, and only able to go and get food for 30 minutes here and there.”
“My biggest issue with online learning is that it feels like a lot of the time, that our work and our life, there’s just no balance anymore,” said Senator Kobe Hopkins ’22. “… I think it’s going to impact the amount of students who choose to enroll online if the University does do a fully online fall quarter.”
Suggestions made by students to ease the burdens of online learning included imposing limits on the duration of classes taught over Zoom, providing additional communication on the availability of mental health resources and ensuring professors accommodate students with economic- or health-related difficulties.
Senators also raised complaints about how Stanford has communicated updates on fall quarter to the student body.
“I can’t stress like how many emails over this period of time I’ve received that just don’t click, they don’t say anything,” said Senator Sarah Saboorian ’22.
“A lot of people are feeling a lot of anxiety because Stanford’s so decentralized, and while they were on campus, they didn’t have to reflect on that as much,” said Senate Chair Munira Alimire ’22. “But now they’re looking for answers, and they don’t know who to turn to or where to start.”
According to Kalfayan, Stanford has assembled roughly 25 committees of people overseeing “various different aspects” of the University’s coronavirus planning. Senator Veronica Ayala ’22 suggested that students be made aware of how to contact these specialized committees and facilitate more direct communication.
The senate also unanimously passed a joint resolution with the Graduate Student Council in support of graduate student housing, calling on Stanford to raise graduate students’ stipends and pay while also providing financial aid for students forced to move out of subsidized housing.