When college turns into a different existence: ‘It just doesn’t make sense to me’

FAMU's campus. Credit: Issac Morgan

Florida’s public colleges and universities have prepared fall reopening plans that include health and safety guidelines, but some students still feel uneasy, let down and worried — about themselves, their classmates and faculty and staff as COVID-19 continues to enfold.

For many students, the tradition and richness of the college experience will be stripped away during the pandemic. They’ll be wearing masks on campus. They’ll have less in-person instruction in regular classrooms. They’ll sit alone in front a computer doing online courses. They may not live in dorm.

With the fall semester beginning soon, the Florida Phoenix spoke with three students at different public universities in Florida, to get a feel for what it will mean to go back to college amid a public health crisis.

Their names are Alexis Butler, Naiola Francois and Marcus Milani. Here’s what they wanted to say:

Alexis Butler

Alexis Butler is a junior at Florida State University in Tallahassee majoring in commercial entrepreneurship. She told the Phoenix that she has a full schedule of remote classes in the fall. She will be living outside of campus.

Butler feels FSU had “a lack of communication” with students for awhile, regarding its fall reopening plan.

At FSU, students will have hybrid classes and a mix of online and in-person instruction, according to its reopening plan.

Butler said in a phone interview that the university gave her the option to choose in-person instruction, and that FSU plans for smaller class sizes, while practicing social distancing in classrooms.

“I just don’t feel comfortable with that…it just doesn’t make sense to me,” Butler said.

According to FSU’s reopening plan posted on its website, “Only 25-50% of classroom space will be used at any given time in order to limit the number of students, faculty and assistants who may be in the room at any given time.”

Butler, who said she used to live on campus, is glad that she now lives in an apartment off campus. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable being in the dorms,” she said.

But when asked whether she feels her apartment community has enough safety measures in place, she said, “I feel that there is more that needs to be done.”

Naiola Francois

Naiola Francois is a senior majoring in general health science at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee.

She said in a phone interview that her fall classes are all online. She also fears that reopening campuses in the fall could cause chaos on FAMU’s campus due to potential COVID-19 infections.

“Students are coming from all over to return to Tallahassee so now if one student or even teacher tests positive…then what?” she said.

“I can honestly say it would be really inconsiderate of FAMU to even still expect students to even want to return after a situation like that.”

Francois also said she wanted to attend at least two of her classes in-person but those courses transitioned to online-only courses.

“I chose to have at least two classes in person just because I like to be on campus with my fellow peers as well as me reading reviews on ratemyprofessor.com, saying those two classes need to be in-person. So, when I found out they were just all online, including those two, I was a little annoyed because I specifically wanted those two courses in-person for a reason,” she said.

A Florida Phoenix reporter recently walked on the Florida A& M University campus in Tallahassee and noticed signs about wearing a face mask as a requirement before entering most buildings on campus.

The university has decided on a hybrid approach consisting of face-to-face and online delivery of classes. The university also reduced on-campus housing occupancy, according to its reopening plan.

Marcus Milani

Marcus Milani is a junior at the University of Florida, in Gainesville. He’s not only concerned about the well-being of students and faculty but the university’s ability to enforce its safety measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on campus.

“I think right now for a lot of students, they’re extremely worried about themselves, about their professors and about Gainesville as a whole,” Milani, who is majoring in biology and political science, said in a phone interview with the Phoenix.

“I think my two biggest concerns that UF has not addressed at all with reopening, is enforcement and the safety of workers. Obviously, UF is not able to enforce social distancing, or the use of masks on their campus. They’ve recommended that teachers and grad students who are teaching classes to simply cancel class if someone is refusing to wear a mask. I don’t see how they will be able to enforce masks in dorms and more private areas of campus.”

“I don’t think UF can justify opening until they have solved these two issues, which I don’t think they’re capable of, so they do need to close campus in the fall,” he said.

Concerning staff at the university, Milani said UF’s reopening plan, which is available online,  doesn’t “address how they are going to keep their workers safe in any meaningful way.”

“I don’t see how UF is going to protect its janitorial staff, I don’t see how UF is going to protect the food dining workers in the dining halls,” he said.

“Typically, those two groups of workers on UF’s campus are from the more marginalized communities within Gainesville – UF has not addressed how they are going to protect these people if they get sick.”

Each of the twelve public universities’ reopening plans were approved by the Florida Board of Governors in June, but faculty union leaders have been pushing state officials to cancel the reopening of campuses and go back to remote learning for at least the fall semester following a recent surge of COVID-19 cases.

So far, Gov. Ron DeSantis and other state officials have not responded to faculty union leaders about shifting all classes to online for fall semester.