UC Berkeley’s COVID-19 adaptations are impressive but lacking in accessibility

CAMPUS AFFAIRS: Expanding communication channels between students, administration would improve virtual learning experience

Illustration of different scenes displayed as the interface of a zoom call, representing the current circumstance in Berkeley as a campus and a city.
Jericho Tang/Staff

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On Sunday, The Daily Californian’s editorial board chatted with Chancellor Carol Christ about UC Berkeley’s response to COVID-19. 

Overall, the layers of planning campus has undertaken are impressive. The backup supply chain for COVID-19 tests, sourced through Fulgent Genetics, has been shaped to consistently meet campus’s demand. And efforts to halt the spread of COVID-19 have proven fruitful — of the 71 new cases that campus has confronted, Christ noted that none originated on campus. 

Administration also cleverly shifted funds to refine the running of this virtual semester. All in all, $65 million has been poured into ameliorating UC Berkeley’s online educational infrastructure. More GSIs have been hired, technology is more widely available and all GSIs and two-thirds of faculty members have taken workshops on how to conduct remote instruction.

However, questions surrounding accessibility remain — specifically, Disabled Students’ Program, or DSP, accommodations and smoothing the channels of communication for students to translate their needs to campus officials. 

Further, students with disabilities have described difficulties with captioning services and maintaining supportive dialogues with instructors. DSP updated its website to temporarily resolve faculty members’ confusions about the program and is breaking ground on a new online course for instructors about DSP accommodations, one created jointly with students and faculty. But the needs of students with disabilities are immediate. Students have been paying full tuition for a month now and should not still be struggling to gain accessible course materials. 

The common thread through these complications is that strained students are unsure of whom to turn to when they run into problems. Even during a normal semester, it’s difficult for students to figure out whom to talk to and when to get their needs met. But now that resources have all been shifted online, students are more lost than ever.

Students require a streamlined method of getting their questions answered and grievances aired. The intermittent Pulse surveys may be useful in understanding general student sentiment, but a format more tailored to individual issues is vital.

The easiest, most accessible way to achieve this could be through CalCentral. A feedback box, similar in design and placement to the current “COVID Response” graphic, would be useful for students to report trouble with classes, DSP, health, technology and access to resources in general. All of these problems represent points of stressful uncertainty for students. Any and all campus policies must be crafted to mitigate that anxiety as much as possible.

Christ and the UC Berkeley administration have been attentive to the concerns raised by community members. And while great strides have been taken, students must be further empowered to voice their concerns so that campus can aggregate feedback, more effectively allocate resources and alleviate stress. Campus cannot act for students if it does not know where issues lie, but students cannot relay issues if they don’t know where or how to do it. 

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the fall 2020 opinion editor, Katherine Shok.