At the start of the fall 2021 semester, faculty began reassuring students that, given the COVID-19 situation, classes could transition to virtual format in the blink of an eye, should the need arise. made it feel. This plan made sense; at the height of the pandemic, faculty at UMass Boston certainly had ample time to learn how to manage virtual classrooms, as on-campus classes have been moved almost entirely online. Sure, UMass Boston should be ready to use e-learning platforms like never before, and many of us may have even thought, âNow that our teachers have the experience and the confidence to run lessons. on Zoom, the school will be more willing to close in bad weather!
But if you were one of the students who thought so, you were wrong.
On Wednesday, October 27, the Boston area was flooded by a northeast that wreaked havoc on the east coast during the week (1). In Massachusetts alone, the storm caused nearly 500,000 power cuts before 1 p.m. (2), and travel was seriously discouraged in the southeastern state (3). While Boston, somewhat sheltered by its position in Massachusetts Bay, didn’t have the worst, conditions certainly weren’t good. Red Line service was blocked by downed trees between Quincy Center and JFK / UMass and replaced by shuttles, the walkway between McCormack Hall and Quinn’s administration building was deemed too unsafe to use, and travel was also restricted in the middle of the campus due to the fallen fences. Looking across the harbor, white-hat waves could be seen indicating extreme winds and coastal currents crashing into the shores of the islands and at the foot of campus grounds. Pieces of styrofoam were strewn over the new pavers between the buildings. A sliding glass door to the Campus Center was lying on the floor, torn from its track.
As email and text alerts poured in that morning, many of us might have assumed that the University would decide to shut down for the day by moving all courses online; or at least, most teachers would decide to do it on their own. But the school has not closed and many teachers still have lessons. In my own experience, classrooms were half empty and students sometimes arrived 45 minutes late. Navigating around the campus was a nightmare, and the shuttle drivers appeared to have had no notification that they had to take students from Campus Center to ISC to grant access to the library. Ironically, the instructions for taking the shuttles had already been sent directly to the students; but even these instructions were confusing and unclear, and I found myself talking with several students who did not know how to get to class.
Groups of people waited in the high winds and rain by the side of the road in front of the ISC, waiting for loosely grouped shuttles. There were also no new routes directly from the ISC to the Campus Center; instead, students had to go to JFK / UMass station or Bayside parking lot and then return to Campus Center. Getting around the campus, in general, was difficult. This situation persisted until about 4:40 p.m., when the fences were raised and the winds calmed down a bit.
To be clear, I don’t blame much (if any) this calamity on the professors; they all had to go to campus as well, and I know at least a few students allowed students who couldn’t make it to class to connect through Zoom. It is the management of the university which seems to have dropped the ball; both in terms of the decision to stay open, and the lack of communication with the shuttle drivers and many students.
The whole situation was confusing to say the least. Why are professors at UMass Boston promoting the idea that they can easily switch to online classes due to a pandemic when they won’t even take the opportunity to do it in bad time ? What if one of those felled trees injured or killed a student or teacher? And what about students and professors who have physical disabilities, making a trip in almost high winds just to come to class all the more dangerous? Their grades shouldn’t be affected just because they couldn’t make it to class safely. And while power outages certainly prevented many students from being without Wi-Fi at home, they would still be safer walking a shorter distance to a Wi-Fi point than migrating to campus in such locations. conditions. Of course, they shouldn’t be penalized if they really can’t log in to class in a situation like this.
UMass Boston is a suburban school, and the completion of two small residences just three years ago doesn’t change that fact. The overwhelming majority of students live off campus, choosing to drive or, due to exorbitant parking fees, use public transportation. Even if parts of the campus were not deemed unsafe and blocked off – which they indeed were – road and public transport conditions need to be taken into account as strongly as the conditions on campus when it does. a matter of deciding whether or not to close the campus. To act otherwise is dangerous for everyone and discriminatory for people with different mobility situations.