Remote students face decision of whether or not to come to St. Louis for the spring

Olivia Poolos | Staff Reporter

After Washington University’s Nov. 18 announcement that spring 2021 classes will continue to follow a hybrid format, students studying remotely this fall must decide whether or not to come to campus in the spring. Taking into account the rising COVID cases in the St. Louis area, students who abstained from in-person learning this semester face another difficult choice in the weeks to come.

Vice Chancellor Rob Wild emphasized that each student should feel no pressure to make a particular decision in terms of modality.

“Our strategy all along has been we tell you what our plan is, and you choose how you want to study,” Wild said. “The best strategy in the pandemic is to give our students options.”

For freshman Gwyneth Noel, studying at home this fall in southern Ohio was the most obvious choice, given her circumstances.

“It was the logical decision to make, so I just went with it,” Noel said.

Noel wasn’t the only one that held this sentiment. While each remote student had their own unique reasoning behind not coming to campus this semester, the risk of contracting the virus, along with new restrictions on social and academic activities were common considerations.

Freshman Jie Wang was motivated by her family’s health to stay safe at home.

“I live with pretty high-risk people, and I wouldn’t want to bring [the virus] back,” Wang said. COVID-19 also left people in Wang’s house with additional medical needs and Wang has been focused on caring for them.

“If I went to campus, I don’t know what my family would have done,” she said.

Along with similar familial concerns, the lack of guaranteed housing options for upperclassmen this year discouraged junior Rachel Dabbs from coming to campus. “That was kind of the final straw,” Dabbs said. “Having to compete with people for apartments was a mess of a situation.”

Now, remote students are once again considering the pros and cons of committing to in-person learning in the spring. Freshman Aditya Yelamali, who is studying from Seattle, Wash., is weighing his virtual experience with the ongoing pandemic.

“I had this false sense that maybe spending the semester off-campus and waiting for spring might make the [COVID] situation a little bit better,” he said. “But now it’s deciding between missing out on your entire freshman year and having less interactions or going to campus with increased risks.”

Unless the situation worsens to a point where in-person interaction is unfeasible, Yelamali is leaning towards going to St. Louis.

“Nothing has been fully decided yet,” he said. While Yelamali believes that meeting new people and fully engaging in campus activities and classes would be easier in person, he plans to keep monitoring the situation closely.

Wild was optimistic about the chances of an in-person spring semester that mirrors this fall, given the University’s relative control over virus cases.

“Our confidence in being able to do that is very high right now, because we’ve had such a good fall semester,” he said. “The reality is we’ve had much lower instances of COVID on our campus than predicted by the modeling that we did this summer.”

Because of this, Wild said that the University is expecting at least a small increase of freshman and sophomore students who will choose to live in on-campus housing this spring. Due to cancellations of fall housing contracts, there is capacity for an addition of remote students.

“We have room for probably a couple hundred more students if they want to come,” he said.

For upperclassmen such as Dabbs, however, the University is again not promising housing for the second semester. Despite this hurdle, Dabbs is hoping to travel to St. Louis. She hopes to wait a few weeks after the start of the semester in order to give COVID cases time to settle again before eventually renting an apartment close to campus. She shared Yelamali’s motivations of seeing friends and hopes of participating in her extracurriculars—dance and being a tour guide—without using screens.

“I’m very much an in-person type of person,” she said.

Not everyone, however, is choosing to make the switch from remote learning to in-person. Wang has decided to stay home again for spring, citing the same reasoning as before, along with positive feelings about her current online experience.

“In the fall, I was concerned about making friends, and my grades, but things are going pretty okay. I’m enjoying being remote. [I get] good sleep, and I’m saving so much money,” she said.

Noel is on the fence, closely tracking case counts in St. Louis before she makes any decisions. While she wants to go to campus, she is waiting for her dad, who works in the medical field, to assess the safety risk.

“I’d feel bad, but if I’m not able to go I’ll have to deal with it,” Noel said.

Yelamali has a similar mindset.

“The motto has just been, ‘Get through the year,’” he said.

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