Dueling emails confuse classroom teaching in Spelman
It appears that the faculty and administration of Spelman College are not on the same wavelength when it comes to classroom instruction.
The fall semester in person at Spelman College was scheduled to start on August 18, but a recent email sent to students at Spelman’s faculty council sparked widespread confusion among students and their parents.
âThe faculty has not been given a clear and enforceable safety protocol and guidelines that will ensure our health and well-being when teaching face-to-face,â the email read. “Pending acceptable responses to these concerns, we have decided not to teach in person.”
For many students, this was the first time they had been informed that at least some of their courses would be online.
On August 19, Spelman President Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell emailed students informing them that the campus community was indeed open “for in-person learning and teaching” and that “members Spelman’s faculty have decided to return to teaching in-person effective Monday, August 23.
This kind of back-and-forth, the tug-of-war between faculty and administrators, is something “we’ll likely see in the higher education landscape,” said senior professor Dr Shaun R. Harper. of Education and Commerce at the University of Southern California (USC).
“Due to the evolving nature of the current pandemic, the Delta variant and the inevitable future variants, they will continue to be disruptive and anxiety-provoking for faculty and students at all institutions,” Harper said.
But due to the unique nature of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) being underfunded, there may be less access to technologies that can adequately address the heightened sense of anxiety on campuses.
Spelman is one of four Atlanta-area HBCUs that make up the Atlanta University Center Consortium. All four schools have mandated vaccinations on their campuses, with exemptions offered only for medical or religious reasons. Proof of vaccination is uploaded to a database. So far, about 98% of Spelman’s student body have been vaccinated, according to university officials.
Masks are mandatory inside and outside on campus. All vaccinated students, faculty and staff should be tested for COVID-19 every six weeks, and unvaccinated people should be tested weekly. Anyone who spends time on campus should complete a daily self-assessment, checking for fever and other symptoms. But Spelman does not yet have a system in place to track the self-assessment.
In a series of tweets, Dr. Alexandria Lockett, assistant professor of English, pointed out that Spelman’s professors were not on strike, adding that they continued to work and remained flexible.
âPlainly,â she wrote, âSpelman made many smart decisions during the pandemic. “
Still, his tweets expressed professors’ concerns.
âIt’s almost impossible to socially distance yourself in many classrooms and other spaces, especially older buildings which still require a lot of work to allow good air circulation. This is a problem, in addition to other social distancing nightmare scenarios, which compromise everyone, vaccinated or not. “
The issue becomes more complicated when addressing the child care needs of teachers. There are “a lot of southern elementary schools going virtual,” Lockett wrote.
âSpelman College is committed to the value of a residential college experience for its students,â administrators noted in a COVID-19 faculty guide. âBy instituting a layered protection approach, we hope to repeat our experience from last spring. [sic] and maintain an infection rate below 1%.
At USC, where Harper is also the founder and director of the USC Race and Equity Center, all campus staff and students need to be vaccinated, as at Spelman. These records are uploaded digitally to the school health center. They are also required to assess their own health each day before coming to campus, using an app called Trojan Check.
While filling out the app daily is “extremely boring,” it comes with a deep sense of comfort, Harper said.
Every time you enter the school, a USC employee verifies that those entering the campus have completed the required Trojan Check.
âImagine how much this costs in terms of human resources,â Harper said. âIt’s not just about spending money, it’s about having all these people at these checkpoints.
If Spelman had those kinds of resources, he said, “their teachers would probably feel a lot more comfortable.”
âIt’s not their fault. It has to do with the chronic underfunding of HBCUs, “Harper said.” I’m sure they would use these technologies if they could. “
Harper admitted that if his campus didn’t have the resources to track student health and immunizations, he likely wouldn’t be physically present on campus.
âI’m generally a trustworthy person, but I don’t play with COVID. I’m not going on the honor system, âhe said.
Still, Dr Mohammed Tesemma, an assistant math professor at Spelman and a faculty board member, was in his class on Friday, with “almost all” of his students, although “some zoomed in,” he said.
Tesemma used the hybrid teaching model offered to faculty who have students attending virtually.
âI feel comfortable. We have air purifiers, sanitation stations, masks,â he said. âWe just want to make sure that if COVID issues arise, we want to solve them, and more or less that has been solved. “
Campbell, who announced her retirement next year after six years as president of the private school for black women, said administrators would continue to monitor the pandemic.
âThe College continues to work with faculty to provide additional guidance on health and safety protocols as the rapidly changing circumstances around COVID-19 continue to develop. “
Liann Herder can be contacted at [email protected]