January Classes Should Be Remote-Accessible

I can’t count the number of times someone outside of Oberlin has commented on the peculiarity of our academic calendar. While there have been unique benefits for some Obies — such as a longer summer break for first-year students — this year’s calendar has caused a variety of issues for faculty, staff, and students. The condensed Winter Term gives students less time to enjoy one of their favorite parts about Oberlin, and time away from Oberlin is also shortened.

As Oberlin moves into winter break and finals season, College and Conservatory students face challenges regarding their plans for the remainder of the semester. After winter break, many professors have chosen to conduct their classes remotely so students have extra time at home. However, a few professors have chosen to require in-person attendance for classes after break. The decision to force certain students to stay on campus puts them in a tough position socially, academically, and financially. Instead, Oberlin students should have the ability to choose between remote and in-person classes, regardless of major or course.

While many students will remain home after break, the students staying on campus will likely be forced to attend Zoom meetings in their rooms with occasional in-person classes. Unlike last year, navigating Zoom meetings in dorm buildings, co-ops, and Village Housing will be harder because students aren’t restricted to living in housing with single bedrooms. Being mindful of roommates, who are also on Zoom, leads to a lack of stability and engagement in classes.

To many people, learning over Zoom brings back the wave of emotions associated with the COVID-19 lockdowns from last year. Aspects of lockdown life, such as isolation from friends and classmates, eating alone, and spending more time in bedrooms, will return for students staying on campus. Attending review sessions and taking finals is already difficult enough, but these additional factors are major disruptions to learning and mental health.

Assistant Professor of Politics David Forrest is choosing to hold classes remotely after winter break.

“The monetary and public health costs of having students fly back far outweigh the benefits,” he said.

It’s no shock that plane costs during the holidays are quite high and financially unreasonable for some Oberlin students, which is yet another reason for Obies to stay home after break. The context of COVID-19 is also important for professors to keep in mind, as it is getting stronger and mutating because many people still aren’t getting vaccinated. When many students go home for a week, they spend time in either maskless or heavily populated areas, such as family gatherings, airports, and shops. This puts them at further risk of contracting COVID-19 and spreading the virus at Oberlin.

Nevertheless, it’s important to note how certain Oberlin students, especially those in the Conservatory, strongly benefit from face-to-face interactions with their professors. Poor internet connection and time zone issues can be obstacles to music students who rely upon performances for their grade. Conservatory first-year Jude Watt believes in the significance of in-person learning and feels that classes should not be entirely remote.

“Learning in person is a big part of being a Voice major,” he said. “Without being in person, it would be extremely difficult. Singing in front of live people, whether it be your vocal instructor or an audience, is very important to the Conservatory curriculum.”

College students in STEM classes with labs also benefit from interactions with their classmates and professors, but it should be at the discretion of the student whether or not they should stay on campus. At the end of the day, students — not professors — know whether in-person or remote learning works best for them and their circumstances, and they should have the ability to advocate for themselves.

Ultimately, Oberlin students should not be required by any professors to attend classes in person. Instead, everyone should be given an option between in-person classes and remote learning. Every student has different academic priorities, health statuses, and family situations. It is up to professors to take Oberlin’s unique academic calendar into consideration when making decisions that affect the well-being of their students.