Students React to UTSA’s Updated Pandemic Procedures

Bella Nieto, News Editor

As the new semester begins, classes are in not-so-full-swing as 34,000 UTSA students return to campus, but not to class. Almost two weeks before an expected 75 percent of the student body was supposed to commence in-person classes, the university announced that it was temporarily moving most scheduled in-person classes online to curb the spread of the Delta variant. UTSA also implemented mandatory COVID-19 testing for students and faculty showing symptoms of the virus. Courses are expected to remain online until September 12, but the expected start date for in-person modalities is still subject to change. 

The sudden switch to online modality shocked students, who were anticipating returning to a traditional classroom environment. “I definitely expected, not everything back to normal, but I did expect a lot more in-person interactions,” Maria Gonzalez, who is pursuing a Ph.D in finance, said. Gonzalez went on to mention the disheartening nature of the switch made by UTSA. “It has been a little bit tough,” Gonzalez said. “I am not from here, so I came back to be in-person, and then suddenly the three week change, it’s been hard, I understand, but it has been disappointing,” she added.

Similar to Gonzalez, sophomore Mariana Iglesias mentioned how the expectation of in person classes impacted her decision to move to San Antonio. “I guess it did affect me since a lot of my classes were going to be in-person,” Iglesias said. “I am from El Paso so I had to move over here and if I had known, maybe I would have waited…”

Amanuel Dandema, a senior, is no stranger to the traditional college experience pre-covid; Dandema, who planned to take three in-person classes, expressed frustration at the possibility of school reverting back to conditions at the start of the pandemic characterized by limited in-person interaction, classes held over Zoom and growing health concerns

“I wasn’t really upset at UTSA,” Dandema said. “I was just sad that things are kind of going back to the way things were during COVID because I was excited for the new semester, so it kind of felt like we were going back.”

Freshman cyber security major Roy Saiz, who moved to San Antonio from San Diego, communicated similar disappointment at the continuing saga of online classes. “I was upset,” Saiz said. “Usually online I get very bored and I get sidetracked and just start doing whatever I want. I kind of like in-person, so it sucks I’ve got to wait…” Saiz’s comment points to the growing consensus that online class modalities are challenging and potentially damaging to students’ retention of knowledge. 

Despite the differences in experiences and the hindrance to in-person classes, all students interviewed expressed their excitement about meeting new people. 

Having experienced traditional classes before, Dandema expressed that he missed interacting and hanging out with people and that this year he is excited to make new friends, since it has previously been rather difficult. 

Similarly, Maria Gonzalez, who received her undergraduate degree in 2015 and is currently pursuing a master’s, said she was excited to get to know the people she works with, even if classes don’t return to in-person, potentially through small group gatherings and talking with her professors and superiors. 

Melissa Montelongo, a junior Global Affairs major from El Paso, noted that even though classes were online the facilities on campus were still open. She also mentioned her eagerness to meet new people especially through student organizations. “I am really excited to go back in-person to classes to meet new people,” Montelongo said. “I am a part of the Student Government Association so I am excited to actually meet the senators and the cabinet, not only online.”

Despite the vexing nature of the upcoming semester, UTSA offsets the tragedy of a temporary move to online classes with promotion of its more favorable updates to the university.  In UTSA Today’s piece welcoming students back to class, the university championed the $95 million Science and Engineering Building; the Roadrunner Athletics Center Of Excellence (RACE), which opened earlier this month; Guadalupe Hall, UTSA’s newest residential community; and the updates to the John Peace Library and the Downtown Campus. Yet, despite the university’s qualms to in-person learning, UTSA pushed forward with Midnight Lights, a tradition that signifies the beginning of a new school year and, in addition, continues to host Roadrunner Day events, both virtual and in-person.

In President Eighmy’s email to students, the caveats to returning to in-person learning were going to be judged based on various factors. “We will continue to monitor the situation closely and will adjust the nature and duration of these modified operations,” the email stated, “…including San Antonio Metro Health stress level and trends, the potential availability of vaccines for children, the trend in positive cases and the stress level within our hospital systems, vaccination trends locally and in Texas, as well as our campus impact trends around positive tests and vaccinations.”

UTSA strongly recommends that all students, faculty, staff and visitors wear masks while on campus and continues to offer Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines through the On-Campus COVID-19 Vaccination Clinics.