Yes, There is Student Life on Campus– but Only Five Percent of It

The York College gymnasium, a once lively area filled with student athletes bounding down the court, is now occupied from time to time with lab classes.|Photo taken by Parsram Stanley

By Shanaé Harte

The biggest question asked among college students regarding the Fall semester was whether courses would be on-campus or continued online. On Jul. 29 this question was answered for the York College community in a statement emailed by the college’s president, Berenecea Johnson Eanes.

By then, the CUNY Board of Trustees approved  95 percent of the college’s courses to be conducted via distance learning with a mixture of synchronous and asynchronous options. The remaining five percent required students to show up on campus to complete, “primary skills and competency labs in the professional programs.”

“In-person classes were determined upon whether or not there is an in-person requirement by an accrediting agency or if there are no online options for a course,” said Donna Chirico, who recently stepped down from her post as Dean of Arts and Sciences.

The programs that returned to campus for in-person labs are Clinical Lab Sciences, Health and Human Performance, Nursing, Occupational Therapy, and Physician Assistant which collectively consist of 486 students and 35 faculty members. 

One of the courses meeting on campus is Psychology 321, Psychology of Learning Laboratory. The course, being taught by Professor Francisco Villegas, is a hybrid course where lectures are taught online, and labs are conducted on campus. In the course, students learn about basic psychology learning methods and, as part of their lab, learn how to classically condition rats to use some of these learning methods.

According to Villegas, the course would usually have about 20 students but he believes that the pandemic has caused low enrollment. Because of low enrollment, the course only has about 15 students but Villegas considers this a good thing. 

“The low enrollment helped with the social distancing,” said Villegas. “There’s usually five students to one lab room but now that there are less students, there’s only two or three so they really get to practice social distancing.” 

Villegas is enjoying this method of teaching because he still gets the opportunity to conduct lab sessions in person especially after last semester’s abrupt end when the pandemic hit. 

“I do not prefer teaching this class online- there’s no real contact,” he said, adding that in the classroom he feels comfortable and believes that his students feel the same way. 

“The students are quite amazed with the rats and seem to be quite comfortable and I know because attendance is really good,” said Villegas. “Every day I see at least 90 percent of the students so I know they’re comfortable.” 

Despite Marino’s statement regarding what seemed to be a moderate level of comfort expressed by students, no students were available for comment on the progress of their hybrid lab courses.

Professor Daniel Marino who teaches Health 200-Basic Cardiac Life Support and Health 317-First Aid and Safety Education, is also instructing on campus. According to Marino, with these courses and the skills being taught, there was no possible solution other than to have them be conducted on campus. 

“There are various emergency competencies that the students need to become proficient at to receive certification,” said Marino. “You would not be able to learn and practice these skills without sufficient hands-on training.” 

According to Dean of Behavioral Sciences Maureen Becker, even if the college had decided that it would be best for these specific courses to be conducted online, permission would have had to be sought from New York State. 

Because both courses require extensive hands-on training, measures were put in place to ensure the students’ safety while learning.

“The mannequins and other training supplies are always cleaned after each use,” said Marino. “The students also have training devices that they use exclusively.” 

In an effort to ensure additional safety, both courses were moved to the college’s gymnasium for extra space, and students are expected to wear masks once training is in session. 

Like Villegas, Marino is quite comfortable being on campus and believes the same for his students.

“I believe initially, some might have been leery,” said Marino. “Once they see that precautions and safety procedures are in place, it all becomes more familiar and comfortable.” 

Apart from the professors’ efforts to ensure their students’ safety while labs are being conducted, the administration at York is also ensuring that every person who enters the campus is protected. Before entering, individuals are expected to fill out the Everbridge survey, which can be found on the college’s website. 

The survey asks a few questions concerning a potential visitor’s health – whether or not they were experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or whether they have been in contact with someone experiencing symptoms. If one is experiencing symptoms or has been in contact with someone who has, that individual will be denied access from the campus.

A new survey must be filled out every day one plans to visit the campus.

Protective equipment must be worn or entry to the campus is not permitted. For some lab students, personal protective equipment (PPE), which includes masks, face shields, gloves, and gowns, are provided. However, equipment provided to the students by the college administration is not allowed to be taken home.

According to Dean Becker, between every course an hour is given for classrooms and spaces being used as classrooms to be cleaned. Once the building has been emptied for the day, the evenings are used for deep sanitization of the building to occur. 

Deans and department chairs have been in daily or weekly contact with their respective faculty members who are required to be on campus, and to date, there have been minimal complaints about the campus. 

According to Dean Becker, the process of returning to campus has been going smoothly, and to ensure that the process will continue to run smoothly for the remainder of the semester, everyone seems to be following the policy ‘If you see something, say something.” 

For more information on the partial return to campus updated health guidelines and procedures, take a look at “CUNY’s Approved Reopening Plan” on the college’s website. 

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