DUELING COLUMN: The Case For A Remote Fall Semester

Frederic Aurelien/Staff Writer

On Friday May 22, the FIU community received yet another email from President Mark Rosenberg regarding the coronavirus. 

This email however, was not the sort that consisted of societal uncertainties amidst a pandemic, metaphysical parables interpreted through dreams, or biblical horsemen representative of a preordained apocalypse—as much as I have personally grown fond of these. Instead, this email carried a much more thrilling and enticing message for its student body: repopulating our campuses for the fall semester.

The minute the news broke, my phone was flooded with text messages from the WhatsApp group chats I’ve been in since the spring semester. Even the driest of chats suddenly began springing back to life with comical gifs that expressed the feelings of relief and joy that we all felt in that moment. 

Everyone is excited at the idea of being able to see their friends again in the fall, and I would be lying if I said that I didn’t feel the same. Still, I think that attempting to reopen FIU’s campuses now could be the worst decision that we make at this time.

What we need is herd immunity.

All 50 states have begun reopening, and the biggest fear of many medical experts is that this will cause a second wave of coronavirus cases to sweep throughout the country. 

Robert Redfield, a leading public health official, has warned that a second wave of COVID-19 cases during the winter could actually do much more damage than the first—the reason being that it would coincide with the flu season. This means that the U.S would have to deal with both an influenza epidemic and a coronavirus pandemic at the same time, further straining our healthcare systems and leading to even more loss of life and possibly another economic shutdown.

We’ve all spent close to the last three months quarantining, isolating and secluding ourselves from family, friends and significant others, hoping that our actions could get us back to some form of normalcy sooner rather than later. We have all had to make sacrifices in solidarity in order to preserve the well-being of our entire community. 

Now is not the time to go back; now is the time to hold steadfast and continue the course.

FIU is not oblivious to this. In fact, the FIU’s Panthers Protecting Panthers plan provides strategic steps to ensure safe physical distancing in the case that we do return to campus in the fall. But even with all of the guidelines that this plan puts into place, there is still no way that they can ensure the success of this endeavor. 

Many states have loosened stay at home restrictions with the condition that citizens are safely social distancing, but we already see people gathering in large groups, not wearing protective masks and essentially ignoring all social distancing rules in response.

All it would take is a relatively small amount of asymptomatic individuals not following the school’s guidelines to put FIU and the rest of the Miami community back in jeopardy. That is a very thin line we would be walking come fall—a line that could risk undoing all of the progress that we have made up until this point.

What we need is herd immunity. The most effective and time-efficient way to get through this pandemic will be to use a vaccine that could immunize a large portion of our population before we take such bold steps as reopening college campuses. Typically, vaccines take decades to develop, but with the entire world working towards this one common goal together, health experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci have estimated that a working vaccine could go into circulation as early as December 2020.

No one wants to continue their college experience remotely, and I get that because I don’t want to either. I understand the struggle of Zoom and its many awkward silences. I empathize with the difficulties of taking more than four classes remotely while trying to maintain your mental and emotional health.

The exciting social aspects of college won’t exist as they did a semester ago.

But if we make the decision to return, we risk drastically enlarging an already massive death toll from a global pandemic that has already taken nearly 100,000 American lives in a little less than three months’ time. If we’re concerned about finding employment after college now, there’s no telling how hard it will become if our job markets get hit with yet another economic shutdown like the one we are currently trying to climb our way out of.

We have to take a long and hard look at the things that we consider to be essential to society and ask ourselves if repopulating our campuses for in-person classes would meet those criteria. 

The romantic idea of a “return to normalcy” will likely consist of greek organizations, sports events, lecture halls and club activities being placed under new restrictions that will ensure students are not gathering together in crowds. The exciting social aspects of college that many of us are longing for won’t exist as they did a semester ago, no matter how you look at it. 

If we really want to return to some form of normal as soon as possible, I don’t believe that returning in the fall is the answer. 

Baring the inconvenience of remote learning for one more semester may be what is necessary for us to move on and overcome this obstacle for good.


The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of PantherNOW Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.

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