‘Do the decent thing’: UC Berkeley remains invested as high-risk students voice safety concerns amid return to in-person classes

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Anthony Angel Perez/Senior Staff
As in-person classes resume amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many students who are disabled or immunocompromised voice their safety concerns. According to campus's Disabled Students' Program Executive Director Karen Nielson, campus can meet student requests for remote learning through the program.

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For Carlos Vázquez, co-chair of the ASUC Disabled Students Commission, returning to in-person classes in the past week has sharply illuminated his community’s needs.

“To our commission, this has been a wake-up call. We need to advocate for hybrid ASAP because the (campus) is not really thinking of hybrid as a compromise,” Vázquez alleged. “Of course, I know it is hard to achieve such accommodations, but it is their job.”

For many high-risk students and those with disabilities, the return to campus has been frightening and stressful, according to Vázquez. Routine issues such as lack of ventilation in classrooms become dangerous, he said, when students have underlying conditions or are immunocompromised.

Executive Director of the Disabled Students’ Program, or DSP, Karen Nielson, said campus can meet student requests for remote learning through the program. Instructors have also been encouraged to offer students alternatives to attendance, such as access to recorded lectures or other course materials, Nielson added.

Vázquez, however, alleged that such accommodations and measures are insufficient to protect campus’s more vulnerable populations.

Campus has remained hesitant to implement fully hybrid education, however, even in light of recent student protests.

“It’s hard to make (hybrid) work well for everyone, especially in a larger class where a lot of people would be on screens,” said campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore in an email.

Academic Senate Chair Ronald Cohen alleged focusing on an in-person and virtual group of students at the same time “degrades” a class experience for all students.

Hybrid education in a synchronous manner may also not be equitable for students who need to attend classes online, said Oliver O’Reilly, campus interim vice provost for undergraduate education.

For example, O’Reilly said, students may be unable to hear their instructors or peers, participate in discussions or be properly engaged by the instructor as other students are.

“Many instructors have been recording their lectures,” O’Reilly said in an email. “I also applaud departments that have the resources to go the extra mile by hiring students to help record lectures in rooms that don’t have course capture.”

However, students have alleged that teachers fail to remember to record their lectures, rendering online access to classes much more difficult. Gilmore said campus continues to advise students with disabilities to consult with DSP to receive accommodations or find courses that may better work for remote learning.

The Disabled Students Commission, however, would ideally see fully hybrid education and mandatory testing for campus community members, Vázquez said.

Vázquez also asked students on campus to remain responsible for their actions and how they affect those around them. Although he said he feels vaccination and testing for COVID-19 are voluntary choices, students should take precautions to keep others safe.

“While you’re being reckless, other students are scared,” Vázquez said. “If you want to be an active, fully functioning member of this Cal community, you would do the decent thing and take safety precautions to keep everyone safe.”

Contact Sebastian Cahill at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @SebastianCahil1.