By Ian Ezinga
Being back on campus last week for the first time since March 2020 was a rather strange experience. As soon as I got off the Q train on Avenue H, the waves of nostalgia came steadily and without pause as I retraced steps I had once made so regularly. Seeing the clocktower again, crossing both the East and West Quads, and reentering Boylan Hall felt like sequences out of a dream. I am a different person than I was the last time I wandered around campus, but my opinion about Brooklyn College needing to take the needs of students more seriously remains the same.
I missed being in-person, and while there are certainly cases where remote classes make more sense for some students, in general, I believe them to offer a second-rate education and are certainly not a substitute for learning in a classroom. I think this is mostly understood, and I appreciate CUNY’s effort in trying to get students back on campus. But its work to get students back in classrooms totals, in typical CUNY fashion, as hasty and without due attention paid to practical issues.
The first point to be made is that we are still in the midst of a pandemic and the facilities and processes have thus far not shown themselves as up to snuff. Any private concerns I have about my safety take little stake here compared to more serious concerns of my fellow students and faculty that have to be back on campus. That said, why aren’t there masks being handed out at every entrance and building on campus? Why is there still so little clarity about random testing and classroom procedures if a student or professor tests positive? And why is there almost no attention paid to the glaringly obvious issue of socially distant spaces for students to study or just pass the time between classes inside?
These questions need answers soon. Failing to take them seriously will only lead to an entropic devolution of the campus as a whole. This isn’t about my own personal feelings, but it just seems absurd to jump so quickly to providing, or in lots of cases, requiring, an in-person education when so many problems still need to be solved. Meeting face to face is my preference. And while trends keep pointing downward, especially for the vaccinated, Brooklyn College is still a massive biological train station with its passengers coming to and from a huge swath of the city. The friends and family that the triple vaxxed young passengers come into contact with may not have such a robust resilience to new variants.
The last point to be made is aligned with the last question being asked about space for students. I had an abysmal time trying to find a place to attend my remote classes on both days of class last week. Classes that were scheduled to be in-person, but due to the professors’ concerns about the new variant, will be held remotely for the time being. With a long commute and only short breaks between classes, I and many other students have to take these remote classes on campus. While I was initially pleased at having secured a private study room in the library, I soon found out that the WiFi connection was unusable. I was disconnected from Zoom multiple times and my introduction to the class was transmitted only through a couple sparse stretches of static mumble. I, and seemingly many other students, have since tried our luck in the library’s reading room, which still wasn’t great, and the cafeteria in Boylan Hall. Both of the latter options are hardly private spaces that facilitate anything resembling an easy-to-focus environment and the WiFi is still lacking.
Sitting in on an open forum the college hosted the week before the campus opened, we were given details of improvements made including greatly expanded WiFi connectivity. But I am still left to wonder if they were remotely close in their calculations of how many students would be connected at any one time for class, homework, or downtime. My guess is no. But what an absurd thing to overlook when the administration should have been hyperaware of that possibility in the first place.
In all, I am happy to be back. This is my last semester of college as an undergraduate, and I am still buzzing with excitement at all I am going to learn. I love this school and its campus. The physical spaces, along with the people who inhabit them, are sincere treasures. My undying hope is that Brooklyn College, along with CUNY at large, do their sacred duty in looking after these treasures as they should.