How Did SLU Handle COVID-19 This Fall Semester?

A Retrospective Look at SLU Student and Faculty Experiences Amidst COVID-19

It was the week of spring break when Saint Louis University decided to shut down in-person courses for the remainder of the 2020 Spring Semester as a result of concerns of COVID-19, instead favoring online instruction. Even though it was for the best, many students felt that the switch to just online classes was not helping them succeed academically. Hearing these concerns, SLU planned for a fall in-person semester, with undergraduate classes beginning on Aug. 17 and ending on Nov. 24, with finals being entirely online during the week of Nov. 30.

Even though a continuation of in-person courses was sorely missed during the online Spring 2020 semester, there were still ample concerns amongst students and faculty alike. Would COVID-19 cases be kept under control? Would the semester be moved to online again?

In spite of these concerns, SLU has managed to stay open and in-person for the entirety of its planned semester. However, now that Fall Semester 2020 is coming to a close, it’s time to look back at how SLU handled an in-person semester in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The University News reached out to several students, staff and faculty in order to gauge how they felt about the semester. They were asked how their experience has been personally impacted, anything they think SLU is doing well, any shortcomings that can be improved for the spring and overall how they thought SLU responded to the pandemic.

Daniel Mascarenhas

Daniel Mascarenhas, a prominent member of SLU’s Jesuit community, has an overall high opinion of SLU’s handling of COVID-19. “I have the opportunity to go to classes in-person,” Mascarenhas told UNews, “They’ve been hybrid so it’s great to have the flexibility for students who cannot come in person for any reason, they can still join, and those who want to be in person have the opportunity.” The communication SLU has provided to its community is also a high point for the Jesuit, particularly stating “That’s been really helpful to give clear guidelines as to what are the acceptable behaviors, the best practices and the general cheerleading has been helpful to maintain morale.”

However, Mascarenhas has concerns regarding the feelings of community that SLU hasn’t particularly fostered, “I don’t know what the solution to that [disconnection] is, but probably over the next three months, if the university, or perhaps campus ministry, could think of something of how to involve students so that they can feel a sense of community.” In spite of this, Daniel still believes that SLU’s course of action is for the best, “Nobody actually asked for COVID, so I think we’re responding to an external circumstance.”

Katherine Johnson

Sophomore Katherine Johnson also reports an overall positive experience, albeit with some issues. “At least from the schools from my state, they [SLU] did a lot better,” said Johnson, “but I don’t know about it compared to other states. Based on Oklahoma schools, they’ve been doing so much better, especially with cases.” Regarding COVID-19 testing at the university, Johnson told UNews that, “Letting everyone get a test when they came back is really good. But the fact that they’re charging people to get one before they leave, I think it is not a good way to handle this.”

Johnson also reports issues with dining at SLU, “Everytime I try to get food with my friends, it’s always so packed. People will stand right behind me and ignore the stickers, which is kind of frustrating.” However, regarding her whole experience this semester, Johnson still maintains that the overall impact from SLU’s handling of COVID-19 has been positive. “There could’ve been a lot worse, I could’ve been forced to stay back home,” said Johnson. “Besides, being able to come back here, see my friends again, and having in-person classes has definitely helped me stay on top of things.”

Terri Rebmann

Terri Rebmann is a Professor in the Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics, Director for the Institute for Biosecurity and Special Assistant to the President. Overall, Rebmann spoke highly of the COVID-19 plan SLU’s interdisciplinary team put into action as well as the participation of students in the plan. “There’s just a huge amount of credit that needs to go to the students because our team, which was administrators, faculty, staff,and student representatives, put together the comprehensive plans and policies, but it’s up to the students to actually follow those policies,” Rebmann shared with UNews, “So the fact that the vast majority of students followed the rules and followed them consistently is really a testament to the students.” Rebmann was also really proud of SLU’s contact tracing program, “Within the same day they get a positive test result for a student, they reach out to that individual and do the contact tracing, and put the close contacts into quarantine.”

Regarding any potential improvements for the spring semester, Rebmann states that SLU will be figuring that out over the winter break, “There are lessons learned from this fall that can help us develop or enhance our plans for spring. We need to keep campus safe, but there are possibly additional things we can add, such as more organized social activities if we do them in a very safe manner.”

Dan Kozlowski

Communication Department Chair Dan Kozlowski also spoke very highly of SLU’s handling of COVID-19. “I mean it’s been a challenging environment, I think for both students and instructors,” Kozlowski told UNews. “When the semester started, I had some skepticism as to how things would go and I think, all things considered, we did pretty well.” Particularly regarding the flexibility SLU gave students about being online or in-person, Kozlowski held many praises, “The sense that the University got, I think, from the survey they had done over the summer is that most students prefer in-person classes, but some students, for a variety of reasons, needed to take classes online and I think SLU did a good job accommodating that.”

Kozlowski overall did not really have many problems with SLU’s handling of COVID-19. “I mean I don’t think there’s anything that I’ve seen that has been a glaring omission,” says Kozlowski, “I think the University will have to make sure to keep reminding and encouraging folks to keep following COVID protocols if we’re going to have a successful spring semester too.” Kozlowski, however, has struggled to juggle engagement for both online and in-person students, “I always want my classroom experiences to be positive for everyone, and I’ve struggled at times to make sure that students who are online, either on a given-day or for the whole semester, are still engaged with the class, that they’re still learning and having a positive experience.”

Weronika Grajdura

Freshman Weronika Grajdura believes that SLU has handled the pandemic well, all things considered. “There are some things that I’m not completely satisfied with or I thought they could’ve done a better job with,” Grajdura said, “I feel like we did better than other schools in that our infection rate was very low compared to other schools.” Similarly to Kozlowski, Grajdura also praised SLU for the flexibility that they gave students, “I think it’s nice they gave students the choice to Zoom into classes when they weren’t feeling well.”

Weronika definitely had some issue with some other students, “I definitely heard of some instances of partying and some people getting off easy, so that could have definitely been better.” Though she maintains a good opinion of SLU’s handling of COVID-19, Grajdura did report to UNews about that the lack of active clubs felt unnatural, “It’s not the typical college experience and could’ve been better, but I feel like with COVID, SLU did a pretty good job.”

What Does It Mean For SLU?

Overall, it would seem that SLU has handled COVID-19 pretty well, all things considered. This handling was not perfect, as evidenced by complaints regarding areas such as dining and a lack of community events, which means there is still plenty of room for improvement. However, by their demonstration of transparency, flexibility with regards to taking classes and comprehensive guidelines, it would seem that SLU is certainly on the right track for handling an in-person semester during the pandemic.