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Students react and look ahead as semester starts online, dorms remain closed

Updated: Apr 25, 2022

After spending much of 2020 and 2021 trudging through online classes, many aren’t excited to return to remote learning.

The university’s decision to start the spring semester remotely through Jan. 18 left students scrambling to change their flights and access their textbooks before the start of classes. Belmont’s campus-wide dorm closures also leaves residential students without a place to live as they arrive back in Nashville for the spring semester.

The last-minute change to the campus plan, announced a week before the first day of classes, has many in the Belmont community bracing for a chaotic and frustrating start to 2022.

“I feel like this is setting up for a semester on Zoom,” said economics and finance senior Jack Bergstrom. “Maybe that’s just the pessimist in me.”

The situation mirrors spring break of March 2020, he said, when classes went fully online — first for a few weeks, and then indefinitely.

Students like music business freshman Katey Fritz believe Belmont made the right call in going online for the first two weeks of the spring semester.

But Fritz is still feeling the stress of the last-minute schedule change. With her return flight from Cleveland already arranged and her job waiting in Nashville, she has no choice but to hop on a plane and make her way back toward Belmont.

But she’ll be locked out of her dorm when she gets here.

“I’ve been trying to see if I can find anybody who wants to split an AirBnb with me so I can be down there and work. But then that ends up being $700 to make $300 or $400 in a week,” said Fritz, who works at a short-staffed cafe in Hillsboro Village.

“I want to be able to help my boss out,” she said. “And there are the students who can’t miss their shifts at their jobs, and they could possibly lose their jobs if an employer isn’t as understanding.”

Many of those returning to Nashville will be paying out of pocket for off-campus living accommodations over the two-week campus closure. During that time, students can make appointments with their Residence Director to pick things up from their dorm rooms, but they won’t be able to move back in until Jan. 15.

While its campus stands largely empty, Belmont will also offer some prorated refunds on housing and meal plans, according to the university’s 2022 COVID-19 FAQ page.

But what Belmont should also refund is a portion of tuition, said Bergstrom.

“They either admit that Zoom teaching isn’t as good by offering a refund, or they keep the money and they say it’s the same when it’s not,” he said.

Design communications sophomore Claire Abercrombie agreed that the quality of remote learning at Belmont isn’t worth the university’s premium price.

“We’re not paying $60,000 a year to talk to our computers,” Abercrombie said. “Online learning just isn’t fair for the money we pay.”

Abercrombie said she made her best grades during the in-person fall semester, and she doesn’t look forward to the toll remote learning can take, academically, socially or emotionally.

“It’s just so depressing,” she said. “I can’t handle it. It’s not good for me.”

Faced with the possibility of another semester online, many students are discouraged for the weeks to come and some want to return to campus as soon as possible.

“The only people we’re protecting, in my opinion, are people who decided not to get vaccinated who have had plenty of time to get vaccinated,” said Bergstrom. “If there are older teachers who are concerned for their health … if there is a subset of people who want online classes because they are truly fearful, they should have that option.

Belmont’s student vaccination rate is only 74%, according to campus data updated Monday. Meanwhile, Tennessee is seeing a record-shattering surge in new COVID-19 cases, with one in three tests coming back positive — in part due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant, which is not only spreading quickly but contributing to a rising number of breakthrough infections among the vaccinated, according to the CDC.

“We must consider the impact that a large surge in cases of COVID and the increased transmission rate seen with the Omicron variant could have on on-campus living,” said Belmont’s return to campus FAQ. “The impact that large numbers of infections would have on our campus resources, our ability to support students and our surrounding community weighed heavily in making our decision.”

Omicron cases are expected to peak in late January, around the same time Belmont will reevaluate students’ return to campus and determine the fate of the upcoming semester.

Regardless of what’s to come, Belmont students are nervous that the change in schedule spells another year online.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily a grades thing, but more so how much we’re learning,” Fritz said. “With the tuition we’re paying, we want to learn as much as we can, especially because Belmont is a very experience-based school.”

“That’s gonna be tough,” she said.

This article was written by Anna Jackson.

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