Students protest, petition against decision to return to in-person learning Tuesday


Illustration by Olivia Abeyta

Northwestern returns to in-person classes Tuesday despite student pushback.

Iris Swarthout, Assistant Campus Editor

Despite reporting 686 new positive COVID-19 cases last week, Northwestern will resume in-person classes and activities Tuesday.

In a Friday email to NU students, Vice President for Operations Luke Figora affirmed the end of Wildcat Wellness to be Tuesday. He added that students will be required to complete another COVID-19 test by Friday and said COVID-19 case numbers are declining. 

During the second week of Wildcat Wellness, the University reported a 4.81% positivity rate and a decrease from the more than 900 positive tests the week prior. NU’s campus activity level is currently designated as “yellow,” which indicates an increasing number of positive cases and unfavorable local trends, according to the Campus Activity Levels website.

In response to the heightened number of COVID-19 cases, more than 1,500 students, faculty and staff across the NU community signed a Jan. 13 petition calling for the University to delay the return to in-person classes. 

The petition demanded virtual classes be extended until the University can distribute at least seven N95 or KN95 masks per month to each member of the NU community, get rid of Quarantine and Isolation housing roommates, ensure that hybrid options are available for all classes and make free take-home tests accessible.

Petition creator and Weinberg senior Corbin Treadwell said they talked to an immunocompromised friend during Wildcat Wellness who fears for her safety in returning to in-person classes. They added implementing hybrid classes would be more accommodating to the needs of individuals like her.

“The thing for me that’s the most non-negotiable is adding the virtual option because of … my friend I talked about with a chronic illness where COVID could be fatal,” Treadwell said. “I would be willing to compromise for a hybrid option … making it mandatory to be in person is just what’s so dangerous.”

Treadwell added that lack of complete accessibility to COVID-19 protective gear spearheaded the petition’s demand for N95 and KN95 mask distribution across the NU community. 

While the demand for increased respiratory mask accessibility is central to the petition, Figora said at Wednesday’s Faculty Senate meeting that the University acquired an initial shipment of 50,000 N95 and KN95 masks and is working on getting more.

Medill senior Tiffany Xu said accessibility and student accommodations during in-person classes prompted her to sign the petition. She said if professors provided more concrete flexibility with exams and attendance in case of illness, she would be more inclined to return to in-person learning.

“A lot of my professors are saying they won’t be recording classes or if you miss tests there’s no way to make that up,” she said. “If I were to get COVID … I would be forced to miss class. There’s no system in place in a lot of my classes for me to still be able to do them.”

Associated Student Government will propose a resolution Wednesday asking professors to implement alternative options to in-person class, excuse absences related to positive COVID-19 cases and publish pandemic-related absence policies in their syllabi. 

Some NU student activist groups joined the initiative to extend remote classes past Jan. 18. NU Community Not Cops and Students Organizing for Labor Rights reposted the link to the petition to their Instagram accounts, asking community members to send the petition to top University officials. They also announced a Tuesday strike from in-person work and classes on their Instagram accounts, citing the yellow COVID-19 activity level and lack of University response to the petition. 

While many petition signers want to continue virtual classes, McCormick junior David Hines said in-person instruction is better because of his inability to focus online. However, Hines said he signed the petition because he felt that case numbers and lack of mask accessibility were non-negotiable.

“Northwestern isn’t taking the necessary procedures to keep students safe,” Hines said. “I think having the KN95 masks is a reasonable goal as it makes sure that people are safe, especially immunocompromised people.”

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @swarthout_iris

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