Five weeks into the semester, uncertainty and rumors about how COVID-19 is affecting Shippensburg University have spread rapidly. Questions about moving to online instruction, how COVID-19 cases are calculated by the school and support students in quarantine are receiving are circling campus.
Last week, Charles Patterson, Shippensburg University president, sent out an email to students addressing rumors about the school moving to online instruction. He assured students there were no plans being made to go online.
Despite this assurance, some students remain uncertain about the university’s support and their safety on campus.
At last Thursday’s Student Government Association (SGA) meeting, Hunter Cramer, the college of arts and science senator, said several students had expressed concerns about their safety in classrooms.
Although a cold was going around, students who spoke to him said they considered leaving classrooms due to how many people were coughing.
On Thursday, Sept. 23, Abby Hollibaugh, an SU student, started a petition on Change.org titled “Shippensburg University Shows No Support towards students in quarantine.” In the petition description, Hollibaugh said some students are being advised to withdraw from classes.
The petition said that professors have leeway on how they support quarantined students by giving them notes, lectures or additional time on tests and that there is no uniform policy to address this.
“Suggestions are made by the university to these students to withdraw. Why should students have to withdraw from the class or semester because professors don’t supply covid 19 students with classroom material or provide Zoom with equipment available in the classrooms?” The petition said.
Students may not report COVID-19 symptoms or go get tested to avoid the academic hurdles presented by being quarantined and lead to more positive cases on campus, the petition said.
As of Monday, Sept. 27, there have been 119 positive COVID-19 cases since Aug. 1, according to the Raider Respect website. The website, SU’s hub for COVID-19 policies, questions and information, includes statistics on the cumulative cases and tests.
These numbers are updated every Monday and Thursday according to the university.
Test and case totals are broken down into demographics of commuters, residential students and employee cases. Employee cases include campus partners like Aramark, according to Patterson.
Numbers are compiled in two ways, Patterson said. They are self-reported by those who go to off-campus testing centers or notification from the R3 testing center and Etter Health center.
“I know I have said it before, but the best method we have for maintaining the health and well-being of our campus community and retaining a normal experience is to get vaccinated and to mask up.” Patterson said.
Students in quarantine or isolation get university support in several ways, Patterson said. This includes help from the COVID office, the Academic Affairs Division of the provost’s office, the counseling center, residence life, dining services and the university’s instructional technology office.
When students enter quarantine the provost’s office tells their professors so they can provide students support, according to Patterson.
“Our goal is always to help students achieve their academic goals. Withdrawing from a class should be the last option, and support networks are in place to help students make an informed decision,” Patterson said.
However, not all students feel they are adequately supported with these tools.
Hollibaugh made her petition “as a small peaceful protest that gives the university a visual idea of how many people disagree with their ways. As we learned in the past, change comes with numbers,” she said.
When Hollibaugh was quarantined, she said professors told her to depend on other students for missed lecture material. She did not trust other students to do this as it is not their job, Hollibaugh said.
Those she did reach out to were not able to send her class notes, she said.
“I simply want more accommodations towards the students. Ultimately all I’m asking is that students have access to Zoom during lectures or that professors send recordings of the lectures.” Hollibaugh said.
When she reached out to multiple offices, she was told they could not force professors to do something they were not comfortable with.
“I simply want the university to treat me as a student instead of a nuisance because I am sick,” Hollibaugh said.
Hollibaugh had multiple students tell her similar stories, she said, so she decided to be the voice for all students by crating the petition.
When asked for a quote regarding the petition, Patterson said there is no standard response on how faculty should support quarantined students dictated by the administration. The administration cannot tell professors how to approach the issue because each case is different.
“Each course requires different types of accommodations by individual faculty for students that miss class due to an illness. The vast majority of our faculty have done an outstanding job in accommodating students’ different needs for isolation and quarantine, and we continue to ask all faculty to be as accommodating as possible in these cases.” Patterson said.
Kara Laskowski, president of SU’s chapter of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF), has similar sentiments.
Faculty work to ensure they are doing all they can to support students in and out of the classroom, Laskowski said. Part of that is helping students when there is a “necessary absence,” which includes isolation and quarantine.
“I have been working with my colleagues who have been doing creative and difficult work to accommodate all needs that have been presented by students — including providing notes and class materials, facilitating contact with other students for in-class notes, extending deadlines and creating alternative assignments to replace in-class work,” she said.
“The online petition is certainly disheartening because it reflects both inaccuracies about requirements and reflects a difficulty that a student has encountered,” Laskowski said.
“With respect to requirements, it is actually important that we are simply saying that the student has the ability to make up the work, without prescribing the way or timeline in which that work is completed,” she said.
How and when a student makes up work will look very different in an art class versus a research methods class, according to Laskowski.
Some students may recover quicker than others who contract COVID-19 and may need less time to make up their work.
“Having a uniform rule that requires students to complete their work in only a week would not serve our students well,” Laskowski said.
As the semester continues, the university encourages students, faculty and staff to get vaccinated and mask up. Keep up to date on COVID-19 cases at the Raider Respect website: https://raiderrespect.ship.edu