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Petition urges WMU to move online in wake of COVID surge

Western Michigan University Seal. Photo by WMUK
WMUK

An increase in COVID infection rates prompted over a thousand people to sign a petition at Western Michigan University calling for a return to online learning for the first part of the Spring 2022 semester.

The Black Student Union published the petition before classes started on January 10th. After schools like Oakland, Wayne State, Eastern Michigan, and MSU delayed in-person instruction at the start of the year, BSU President Joelle Sanders says WMU’s plan to start the year in-person and re-evaluate after two weeks didn’t sit well with her group.

“Now how are we waiting two weeks?” said Sanders, a senior majoring in sports management. “When we could have started the two weeks online, and had everyone safe, comfortable in their own place instead of waiting two weeks to see if things get bad. I just think that’s a backward strategy.”

Sanders said the group first began talking about the issue last term during member online chat sessions, but waited to see how the University would respond to increasing in the COVID infection rates in Michigan.

“Then we started seeing, oh, Oakland’s going online, Wayne State’s going online or Eastern’s online. So, we’re like Western has to be next. It would only make sense. And then we’re still in person.”

“The chat just blew up, like, ‘Why are we going in person? What’s going on?’  And I was like, you are asking 100% valid questions. Why are we in person when it’s a whole new variant?  And we just got off of break, where people have gotten sick, their family have gotten sick, their friends have gotten sick, where they probably have gotten sick.”

In an email, WMU spokesperson Paula Davis called the Black Student Union petition “valuable” in determining campus operations. She said that while opinions have been split, feedback from a variety of perspectives is important, along with daily monitoring of the pandemic, public health recommendations as well as the academic, health and safety needs of students. 

Sanders said some members were upset because they were under the impression they could still come to class even if they were COVID positive, as long as they were asymptomatic. 

“If you’re asymptomatic, come to class? That’s literally what they’ve been told,” she said. “We don’t feel comfortable being in classes with 40-plus, down someone’s neck, that was just told to come to class, and they have COVID. That’s just not ok.”

Screenshot from the WMU website.
Credit WMU Sindecuse website
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WMU health screening badges.

Confusion over university protocols may have added to student concerns. For most of the pandemic, the university required anyone coming to campus to answer a series of health questions to get a green badge allowing them into campus buildings. On January 4, the university announced boosters would be required by January 17 to be considered fully vaccinated and avoid required testing. For people who uploaded proof of a booster shot, the University’s badge system automatically gave them a green badge without asking any health questions and without a way to indicate a breakthrough COVID infection. 

In an email on Tuesday Western President Edward Montgomery may have cleared things up.  It said if you “test positive for COVID-19, regardless of vaccination status, you must remain isolated for 10 days.” Absences from classes are excused, though students must ensure instructors are notified the excused absence is verified. Detailed instructions can be found at “Report a positive COVID test” on the WMU Sindecuse Health Center website.

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