As mask use in classrooms decreases and lecture halls increase to full capacity, determining how to safely adjust to campus life that is more “normal” than last year is on the minds of both students and professors. The BC administration has not established a university-wide mask mandate or a clear set of procedures to ensure that students who contract COVID-19 have access to class materials. This lack of clarity from administrators has resulted in COVID-related decisions being made at the professor level, leading to departmental inconsistencies in classroom operation and confusion among students.
The lack of a university-wide policy has resulted in days full of mask-on, mask-off motions. Many students wear face coverings in some classes and remove them in others depending on their own comfort level and the fact that many professors' have requested or “strongly recommended” for students to wear masks. Common reasons professors have provided for asking students to wear masks include having unvaccinated children, living with immunocompromised relatives, or being immunocompromised themselves. These requests have resulted in many students who would not typically choose to wear masks indoors to do so out of respect for professors. In addition to requesting for students to wear masks, 320 professors have signed a letter requesting the administration to make masks mandatory in the classroom. Despite this letter and the majority of nearby universities such as Northeastern, BU, Tufts, Harvard, and MIT instituting mask mandates, BC does not allow professors to mandate face coverings. The administration cites the fact that 99% of community members are vaccinated as the rationale behind not enforcing classroom mask mandates.
Just as professors differ in their requests for students to wear masks, students' opinions on this topic are not uniform. For instance, one student (MCAS ‘24) stated, “the lack of a mask requirement in the classroom setting makes me uncomfortable and my nerves could be easily settled if administration were to require masks in class.” This student and others felt anxious walking through the dining hall where the majority of students do not wear masks despite mask requirement signs being posted throughout the space. Additionally, this student discussed how in large lecture halls, a slim number of students out of the hundreds present wear masks, furthering her discomfort. Conversely, many other students interviewed stated that they enjoyed the lack of a mask requirement; one student, MCAS ‘24, said, “finally seeing people's faces again makes BC feel like home.” In addition to a lack of clarity regarding mask mandates, the administration has not established a clear-cut policy to ensure students who contract COVID-19 can access materials from quarantine. Currently, there is no requirement for teachers to require a Zoom option for their classes or publish their lectures or class materials on Canvas. Because there is no university mandate, teachers differ on topics like the publishing of class material, absence policies, and the option to attend class via Zoom.
One approach to managing the classroom setting is publishing lectures on Canvas so that those who are sick have access to class material. Professor Noah Snyder of the Earth and Environmental Science Department publishes his lectures online to ensure students who feel ill can miss class without falling behind. Snyder also only requires students to reply to 65% of Poll Everywhere questions, a program where students answer questions on lecture material to enforce participation and track student attendance. Two years ago, Snyder required students to answer 75% of poll questions to receive full credit on this participation measure. Due to COVID-19-related reasons, he had adjusted this number to ensure students are not penalized for missing class and continued with this reduced question requirement believing it is “still relevant this year.” One student in his class, Sofia Lind, LSOEHD ‘24, appreciated Snyder’s accommodations. “By giving students full credit for only answering 65% of the Poll Everywhere questions, I do not feel pressured into attending class if I feel sick," Lind said. Snyder's approach to managing this year's “new normal,” leaves students feeling comfortable and safe.
Other professors do not have the same approach of publishing material online after class. One student, CSOM ‘24, explained that none of her professors offer an alternative form of learning to in-person instruction. She stated that in two of her classes, she has been told that she “will be penalized for missing class.” In both of these classes, lectures and class resources are not posted on Canvas.
The lack of online materials and university-wide policy regarding masks results in professors taking different approaches to managing classroom instruction. As the weeks go on and administration gains a better understanding of the prevalence of COVID-19 on campus, procedures may be implemented to create university-wide mask mandates and online class options. Until then, Boston College is divided on the best way to adjust to the new school year while maintaining a safe environment.