AUTSA Wants Clarity On Getting Students Back to Campus

By David Williams (he/him)

AUTSA President Sara Youssef wants clearer communication from AUT about plans to resume on-campus study, citing student disappointment at the loss of in-person classes. At February’s AUT Council meeting, Youssef told the committee that students were frustrated at why the university had not made more options available for in-person learning.


“Most classes are actually online, even though the university said it was going to be in person,” she said.


According to Youssef, AUTSA’s position was to give students both online and in-person options. She said if students didn’t want to come on campus in person, then online options should be available for them. Citing her own experiences, Youssef said, “My most important thing is to make sure that we're actually having in-person experiences. For me, I came when I was in 2020, I haven't had a full semester that was in person. So, I struggle with that personally.”


In response to her comments, outgoing Vice-Chancellor Derek McCormack said it was difficult to get support from staff to return to campus because Omicron is highly prevalent in the community.


“There's a lot of anxiety, a lot of fears about spreading Covid to your family, to others, and so it's more difficult than where we had imagined earlier on and getting people on campus,” he said. “We've also had messages from students that don't want to be on campus and want to be online. So it's a bit of a mess, damned if you do, damned if you don't situation.”


During a follow-up interview, Youssef and AUTSA Student Engagement Manager Ashley Kirkness said the university had done the right thing by starting the first semester online. But Kirkness said she also understands student frustration.


“I happened to bump into a friend and their group of friends on campus, and they're like, man, all my courses are online, and I don't know anyone in my class anymore because no one talks to me,” she said.


Youssef said many students had also expressed safety concerns about returning to in-person learning. She said she’s received feedback from immunocompromised students who are scared to return to campus while the virus remains widespread in the community.


However, Youssef stressed an overall need for clearer communication. “I think what students really need is for AUT to give them certainty that AUT is reviewing it consistently. I think when students are left in the dark with no comms on what's going on behind the scenes, I think that's when things get a little worrying."