The sidewalks and grass on Temple University’s campus are once again filled. So are its classrooms.
More than five months after students, faculty and staff vacated Main Campus at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands have returned for a blend of in-person and online learning during the fall semester.
On the first day of classes, Temple students and faculty shared mixed feelings regarding the university’s choice to resume some in-person learning this semester.
Thais Agramonte-Encarnacion, a junior psychology major, wishes Temple made the choice to go completely remote.
“Temple opening back up is such a danger to students,” Agramonte-Encarnacion said. “We have such a big campus, and you see new people every day. I didn’t have the choice to keep my classes online so I am concerned about putting myself and my family at risk.”
Meanwhile, Mohamed Coulibaly, a freshman business management major, registered for in-person classes to have the full college experience, despite COVID-19 concerns.
“I feel safe when it comes to my classes,” Coulibaly said. “I believe a lot of people know the impact the virus can have on you, so they’ll obey the rules that Temple has set to keep their students safe.”
Locally, the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University and La Salle University, among others, have closed their student housing and transitioned to all online classes in recent weeks, The Temple News reported.
The number of students attending classes in-person dropped from 27,000 last year to under 9,000 this year, while the number of seats in Temple’s classrooms dropped from 15,000 last year to 3,300 this year, according to a university press release.
Jenna Spedding, a sophomore information science and technology major, took notice of the lack of students on campus.
“I felt like the number of people outside was less than usual, which is better,” she said. “However, the thought of being around so many people made me think anyone could be at risk.”
To help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, Temple is testing symptomatic and some asymptomatic students, faculty and staff, requiring mask-wearing in all indoor spaces and encouraging students to stay home if they feel sick, The Temple News reported.
The university has also made adjustments in classrooms to encourage social distancing.
Temple transformed rooms in Mitten Hall, Alter Hall and the Howard Gittis Student Center into socially-distant classrooms, said Dozie Ibeh, the associate vice president of Temple’s project delivery group. Paley Hall now has 10 new classrooms on the second and third floors.
Temple created separate entrance and exit points in and out of buildings and classrooms where it was possible, and improved ventilation and air filtration inside buildings to keep classrooms cleaner, Ibeh said.
Michael Sheridan, a hospitality management professor who is teaching in-person, said Temple is listening to the needs of the faculty.
“[The university] is getting us all the resources necessary to feel as comfortable as possible in front of the students,” he said.
Karla Murphy, a Spanish professor, is teaching two in-person classes with 24 students each inside Morgan and Paley halls.
“I was nervous [to return to campus],” Murphy said. “But after I saw how everything has been clean, I feel safe.”
Devon Powers, an associate professor of advertising and media and communication, is teaching in Charles Library and wishes she had the option to move her classes online, she said.
“The university is not protecting the faculty,” Powers said. “They don’t seem to care very much about our health and safety.”
The Temple University Coalition for Change, a new student group for social justice, held a demonstration outside Mitten Hall on Monday where students, faculty and community residents protested Temple’s reopening, which they feel endangers student, faculty and resident lives while neglecting the danger in doing so.
Temple Student Government released a statement on Friday pushing the university to move all classes online and close on-campus housing, with accommodations for housing insecure students, The Temple News reported.
“Since the Temple Student Government came out in support of a shutdown, it blew a hole in the whole argument that the university has been saying that students are the reason they’re opening,” said Teresa Swartley, a senior political science major and an organizer with the TUCFC Student Coalition for Change.
After the protest, Temple Association of University Professionals, the university’s faculty union, held a press conference in opposition to the university’s reopening, which was led by Steve Newman, union president and English professor.
Newman wants there to be a vaccine for COVID-19 and see a sustained period of low infection rates before the university reopens campus, he said.
“You have people living together,” Newman said. “You have people in classrooms for hours. [Universities] are, basically, land-locked cruise ships.”
Marc Lamont Hill, a media studies and production professor, described his experience contracting COVID-19 to the conference’s crowd through video chat and urged Temple to close campus.
“You have a choice, Temple University administration,” Hill said. “Do you do what’s right? Or do you do what’s best for your bottom line?”