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UCLA’s pandemic response sites lack consolidated, needed information for students

Communication between the university and its students is important now more than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic. And many students don’t even know the university’s official COVID-19 response website exists. (David Rimer/Daily Bruin)

By Jake Brophy

May 6, 2020 7:24 p.m.

Between a mountain of emails, innumerable links and long-winded statements from administration, UCLA’s communication about the COVID-19 pandemic has done little beyond confusing and frustrating Bruins.

And nowhere is that more obvious than in the university’s official COVID-19 response website.

The site is housed through UCLA Newsroom, but it’s anything but newsworthy.

Because of the structure of the UCLA Newsroom site, all of the information is conveyed in long block lists and a series of links that makes finding the necessary information cumbersome and time consuming. And if students manage to find the information, it’s only a limited list of pandemic-related financial and technical resources.

Emailed statements that the university regularly releases to students are available through the UCLA Newsroom and the Bruins Safe Online sites – but the former is nowhere to be found on the UCLA Newsroom homepage and the latter is organized in a frustratingly disjointed way. Simply put, UCLA is publishing the same information twice, without organizing either in an efficient or accessible way.

Because administration uses sites that aren’t designed to convey the huge amount of information that the university needs to, students are forced to filter through unnecessary text that makes getting information difficult. UCLA needs to create a site explicitly dedicated to its coronavirus response – one that combines all the information from multiple sites and utilizes all the resources at hand. These resources include student-led efforts, such as the Undergraduate Students Association Council’s COVID-19 Relief Fund, which, as of now, are not very well advertised by the university.

It doesn’t have to be aesthetically pleasing, but these sites must be accessible and easy to navigate.

Perhaps the biggest problem with UCLA’s coronavirus site is that many don’t even know it exists. A simple Google search yields dozens of results in addition to the official UCLA Newsroom site, all of which offer links to other UCLA-related sites that have some resources – but not all. This vast and unorganized network makes getting information an unnecessarily difficult task.

The process is so cumbersome that it begs the question of why UCLA would even bother labeling a site as official if students have to constantly redirect to other pages for answers.

According to UCLA spokesperson Katherine Alvarado, the official UCLA coronavirus site will continue to be housed through UCLA Newsroom, which means that students will be forced to rely on the administration’s email announcements in the absence of something more reliable.

But these emails are often just as dense and difficult to navigate.

“I really don’t even delve into the emails because there’s very little actual substance to most of them, I think,” said Garrett Powers, a second-year business economics student.

This reflects a consistent problem with the university’s announcements: long statements that ultimately say very little. Students who read these emails are often left more confused than when they started – and with very little in the way of online support, students have few options to get consistent updates.

All of the email announcements are listed on the Bruins Safe Online and UCLA Newsroom’s “Messages to the UCLA community” website. On Bruins Safe Online, they are labeled with generic titles listed one after the other, followed by little description of their content. UCLA Newsroom’s attempt just adds to the chaos by publishing the same email announcement as Bruins Safe Online just with a different label.

This lackluster effort at communication is compounded by the administration’s failure to promote the resources student organizations have made available.

Conspicuously missing from both sites are resources available to students through school organizations such as USAC and the Student Wellness Commission – both of which have their own websites and support systems for students.

Mannat Sukhija, a fourth-year microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics student and current chief of staff for SWC, said the resources available through the SWC are substantial.

“We have a lot of events during the spring that unfortunately won’t be happening this year,” Sukhija said. “But we used all the resources that would have gone into those and we established these two grants that we’ve set up in writing to help students out there facing additional financial distress during this time.”

A student wouldn’t be able to find out about these grants through UCLA’s official website, however, which means that this important resource meant to help students during this difficult time could be left underutilized.

Even beyond direct financial support, the USAC Office of the Internal Vice President has compiled an extensive list of on- and off-campus resources available to students that could serve as a model on what should be included in UCLA’s own site.

But despite having a plethora of websites, UCLA still failed to make room for these resources.

To be fair, creating a whole new website and compiling all of the necessary information is difficult given all the disruptions caused by the coronavirus, and UCLA’s current site is better than nothing. However, UCLA’s efforts to communicate with its student body are inadequate, and with major changes likely to persist well into next year, the university needs to commit to providing clear information. It is in the best interest of both students and the university to create a more thorough site that takes advantage of the wealth of student organizations and resources available on campus.

For now, students can hope the university agrees.

But until then, they will just have to read Chancellor Gene Block’s long-winded emails.

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Jake Brophy | Opinion senior staff
Brophy was the 2020-2021 assistant opinion editor. He was previously an opinion columnist for the 2019-2020 school year. He is also a third year political science major.
Brophy was the 2020-2021 assistant opinion editor. He was previously an opinion columnist for the 2019-2020 school year. He is also a third year political science major.
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