While UCLA students face endless exams, UCLA is being tested on its ability to protect students from a global pandemic.
Coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19, is a respiratory disease that can spread from human to human and has grown to more than 3,000 cases in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On March 10, UCLA announced it was suspending in-person classes and moved finals and lectures online, encouraging students to go home.
UCLA has more than 40,000 students, many of whom live permanently on the Hill. With various classes, club meetings and dining options crammed onto the smallest UC campus, public health is a critical issue that, when put at risk, can threaten students’ well-being. It’s hard to see any certainty amid a global panic – but this serves as a cautionary tale for how to address safety moving forward.
And that starts with what UCLA did wrong.
The current UCLA Newsroom website’s coronavirus page is a rapid and effective first step to keep students informed. But it also lacks the educational information for students to learn and understand the virus.
Xenophobia has been one consequence of the outbreak. Many Asian people have received various levels of discrimination.
Meanwhile, students are also afraid to miss classes since many professors do not upload notes online.
Increasing the focus on education and actively providing public information about the virus and its social implications would have been integral to increasing mitigation.
This virus didn’t just come with a fever and respiratory symptoms – it came with harmful stereotypes as well.
As a result of COVID-19, there has been strong cultural stigmatization associated with Asians and face masks, with incidents such as racist bullying, according to an NPR report.
Mimi Giang, a fourth-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student, said she wears masks to take responsibility for herself and others but received strange looks from people.
“I think the school should be taking a lot more steps to properly educate the student body about the coronavirus,” Giang said. “And I think that there’s a lot of misinformation, which causes panic.”
A more comprehensive online module explaining the idea of a pandemic, how to prevent and avoid stigmatization and how to wear face masks effectively, at worst, would not harm anyone.
And at best, it could have prevented misinformation early on.
Before the eruption of the coronavirus, the seasonal flu had a long history of harming students. Around 22,000 to 55,000 people in the U.S. died from 2019-2020 flu season according to the CDC. Avoiding skin contacts always prevents certain diseases from spreading, including the flu. More hand sanitizer stations and mandated gloves for dining service employees is a sanitary measure we are taking now, but they should have been required in the first place before the virus eruption.
“It’s always good to be hygienic and to be sanitary,” said Leonardo Le Merle, a second-year biology student. “I noticed personally I have become a lot of more aware of touching my hands (with my face or mouth).”
Moving forward, UCLA should maintain these healthy standards after controlling the coronavirus to protect more Bruins.
Fortunately, there’s work to be done moving forward. The last key issue is the lack of online integration as the university moves toward an off-campus future. Before the spread of the disease, the predominant way to get online recordings was via BruinCast, a service provided by the UCLA Center For the Advancement of Teaching for students to access lecture recordings online.
Steven Peterson, a lecturer in the communication department, posts his notes online to give students extra help.
“I think for conditions like a virus, it is a good option to use online tools to continue the education process without the risk of spread disease,” Peterson said.
While research has shown online recording does not decrease students attending in-person lectures, according to the BruinCast website, the website admits to its limits.
With a school the size of UCLA, employing BruinCast ubiquitously will no doubt cost resources. But the university should encourage faculty to record lectures on their own and post lecture notes online so students who are sick have the option to go home without worrying about missing classes. Professors faced difficulties switching to online classes because of a lack of training and sudden change, and UCLA should further train faculty to prepare for the spring quarter.
“It is really tricky because it puts me in a strange position where I feel like I need to show up to lecture and put others at risk because there is no makeup policy,” Giang said.
One counter-argument, Peterson points out, is that in-person education gives students the ability to have richer conversations than online education. Therefore, online tools and recordings shall serve as a supplement for learning during normal, healthy conditions.
Surely, there’s no alternative for the in-classroom experience we all want. But right now, when no other choice is near, the least UCLA can do is make sure it makes the best of the situation – while learning from its past downfalls.
By implementing new standards and learning from its past, UCLA will stand through not only the seasonal flu, but various large-scale issues.
Bruins will continue to aim for straight-A’s on their finals, as long as UCLA can pass public health 101 with flying colors.