On Monday, Wayne State University resumed limited face-to-face classes after a required two-months of completely remote learning in accordance with a Michigan Department of Health and Human Services COVID-19 emergency order. 

The winter 2021 semester will be very similar to the fall 2020 semester — 90% of WSU’s work will still be done remotely, Interim Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Laurie Lauzon Clabo said in a Jan. 22 interview with The South End. Classes taking place in-person are very specific labs, clinical courses and some performance classes. 

WSU suspended in-person instruction for the first four weeks of the winter 2021 semester, Clabo said in a Dec. 15, 2020 email to the campus community.

“In response to a surge in cases in the community and the risks posed by holiday travel, we will continue the suspension of all in-person classes — with the exception of clinical rotations in the health professions — for the first four weeks of the winter 2021 semester,” the email said.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, on Dec. 18, 2020, called for high schools and colleges to resume in-person learning on Jan. 19, though WSU chose to stick with its Feb. 1 reopening.

WSU will continue the same COVID-19 prevention and monitoring strategies that it followed in the fall, with one new addition, Clabo said: random mandatory testing for students and faculty attending in-person courses. 

Sean Hickey, senior chemistry lecturer, said he is satisfied with students being able to return to labs in-person. 

“Luckily, being a chemistry lab, a lot of the stuff that people have to do to protect themselves from COVID is regular practice in a lab setting,” Hickey said. 

Hickey and fellow faculty members in the WSU Department of Chemistry are worried about students' learning capabilities in a virtual setting, he said. Due to the curriculum requirements in the Department of Chemistry, each lab’s material is intended to be cumulative. Virtual labs do not cover everything that is usually covered in person.

Students who are required to enroll in an in-person chemistry lab but are unable to attend in person will be given a digital alternative, Hickey said. 

"We have accommodations for various students with any issues. We have plans for students who cannot attend in person every time," Hickey said.

Students are also still feeling overwhelmed and isolated in a remote environment, Hickey said.

Combatting feelings of isolation is an ongoing problem at WSU, Clabo said. WSU is constantly working to support students.

“We’re going to have another mental health day on Thursday, Feb. 18. The goal is to give people time to walk away from a Zoom meeting for a while,” Clabo said. 

Sophomore computer science major Rifat Rodoshi said she is eager to return to classes in-person, only when it is safe to do so. 

“If it wasn’t for the pandemic, I would prefer to be in a class where I could see and interact with my peers and professor at the same time because that is the type of environment I thrive in most,” Rodoshi said.

As for future semesters, Clabo said conversations regarding class formats have just started. 

“We've said all along that we are going to be guided by the science and safety first,” Clabo said. “It's hard at this point to make predictions of what we will look like months from now. Our best guess is that spring/summer will probably look closer to this winter semester, and that by fall we will start to see a more gradual return to normal as the vaccine is more widely available.”

Hickey said the Department of Chemistry has already discussed plans for the fall 2021 semester. 

“We have planned everything to be in person in the fall,” Hickey said.


Arben Gacaferi is a correspondent for The South End. He can be reached at newsreportertse@gmail.com

Cover art created by Dori Gross, graphic designer for The South End. She can be reached at gh6421@wayne.edu