JONESBORO — Some students at Arkansas State University protested Wednesday that the university is not doing enough to protect students from the coronavirus pandemic and should provide more options for online learning.
Though only three students carried signs to the chancellor’s office, Ben Hall, leader of Students for an Online Option, said about 40 are actively involved and prepared the signs and other communications.
One student who planned to join the protest had to cancel due to being placed in isolation because of close contact with a COVID-19 patient, Hall said.
While Dr. Kelly Damphousse wasn’t in his office at the time of their initial visit, he did meet with Hall and fellow student Marti Boren in the afternoon. And the chancellor said he was impressed.
“I’ve been impressed first by their willingness to speak up,” Damphousse told The Sun late Wednesday. “I think they’re speaking on behalf of other people. I don’t think these are personal gripes that they have, that they’re trying to represent others.”
He said the students were very respectful, both in person and in email correspondence.
Damphousse said he learned that the administration hasn’t adequately communicated the options the students have.
“I think sometimes that the message can get lost,” Damphousse said. “If you send a really long email, someone may miss the nuance of something that’s in the email.”
Damphousse said he has given all students his email address and cellphone number and encourages them to call him when they have concerns.
For the three protesters, their concerns were about life or death.
Morgan Hibbard, a junior, is able to take her classes online, while living on campus. But she was advocating Wednesday for her roommate.
“All of her classes meet in person, except for one, meets in person, pretty much every day,” Hibbard said. “My roommate is also immuno-compromised … If my roommate gets sick, she’s going to end up hospitalized and possibly on a ventilator and possibly die. It is not fair to her that she has to go out and risk her life daily for an education, when just last semester we transferred to online only in just two weeks.”
While in-person classes is superior to online learning, Hibbard said students at risk should have more options when they see fellow students are not taking CDC guidelines seriously.
Dampousse said the on-campus learning plan was implemented because students wanted to be on campus.
From the financial standpoint, Dampousse said there’s no financial incentive for the face-to-face learning model, “in fact, it costs more to be in person than it does to be onlne.”
“We’ve spent a lot of time, energy and resources on preparing to teach in-person classes … We’re doing it because we think it’s important. And we think there’s value in in-person instruction versus online instruction.”
Though students have had to become accustomed to the new rules, Damphousse said he’s been impressed by the progress.
“My office overlooks a pretty busy sidewalk and I look out the window and see people walking around wearing their masks, even when they don’t have to wear a mask,” Dampousse said. “I see people walking by themselves across campus – they’re not required to wear a mask then – and they’re still doing it. Compliance is very high.”
The number of active virus cases on campus dropped Wednesday from 180 to 135. The active cases involve 37 students living on campus, 89 off-campus and nine university employees.
“We’re seeing our numbers going down, which is good,” Dampousse said. “I won’t be happy until we’re at zero. But I am happy with the direction we’re going for sure.”