Say goodbye to Webex classes and gray social-distancing seat covers because classes will be reverting to full capacity this fall.
Almost a year ago exactly, Mississippi State University students went home for spring break and did not return. Instead, many started online classes from their childhood bedrooms. After returning to campus in the fall, albeit with lots of social distancing and many classes still online, next semester will finally signal a long-awaited return to normalcy.
"I think we're seeing the light at the end of the tunnel," said Regina Hyatt, vice president of student affairs.
John Dickerson, university registrar, said classes will return to normal with no social distancing-requirements, but that a few classes will remain online.
"We fully expect that, and the plan is that it will be somewhere around 90% of our classes will be face-to-face with full capacity. Somewhere around that 10% range will be online. We found that some online classes work better for students," Dickerson said.
Another provision that was made for COVID-19 safety that will remain in place is the 20-minute interval between classes. This aids in preventing large gatherings outside classrooms, Dickerson said.
Hyatt also said some services were found to be more effective through a virtual medium.
"I don't think most students prefer mental health services remotely, but for some students, it's helpful from a convenience perspective. So, I think there are some services that might be offered both in-person and remotely through some virtual engagement," Hyatt said.
Additionally, several outdoor gathering and studying spaces have been added, which is a definite benefit to campus and will continue to be added, Hyatt said.
In order to accommodate for social distancing, several non-traditional classroom spaces, such as the Humphrey Coliseum and Bettersworth Auditorium, were used. These will not be in use next semester.
Although there will be no social distancing regulations next year, Dickerson said they are still undecided about whether or not masks will be required.
"We'll go back to full capacity. What I don’t know yet is whether we'll wear masks or not," Dickerson said.
Dickerson said they are basing the decision to return to in-person classes in the fall on the expectation that most students will be vaccinated by then.
Hyatt said student organizations on campus are expected to return to normal as well. The university has already loosened their guidelines to allow up to 250 students at outdoor events, as opposed to the previous cap of 100. New Maroon Camp, the university's summer camp for incoming students that typically hosts over 1,000 students, will be conducted like normal. Last year the event was canceled.
Garrett Smith, a junior political science major and Student Association president-elect, said he was personally very excited to return to in-person classes in the fall.
"It's been a struggle keeping up with everything, keeping up with online learning. Some classes get a little easier; some classes get a little harder. It just depends, but I'm definitely ready to get back myself," Smith said.
Smith said in-person classes increase the responsibility of both students and teachers.
"I think that a main part of it is accountability, both for professors and students. Professors have more expectations of them when they're in person in the sense that they're more likely to be prepared, have everything ready to go. For students we're more likely to be prepared for a class we have every Tuesday then be prepared for a test that we have not actually been to, where we're just working through the material at our own pace. So I think there's a high level of accountability for both sides of the aisle on that one," Smith said.
Hyatt agreed, saying students have communicated many times to her that they much prefer face-to-face classes.
"Almost every student I've talked to has said, 'I prefer to be in class, in-person.' At the same time students have said, 'I do like the flexibility of the online thing, but I don't think I'm getting as much out of it,'" Hyatt said.
In addition, interacting with others in person truly is just an irreplaceable experience, Hyatt said.
"I think from a mental health perspective we need to be around people, and while I'm grateful that we've had the technology to be able to do virtual learning and virtual engagement, there just isn't a substitute for sitting across from somebody, laying eyes on somebody, having a face-to-face conversation," Hyatt said.
President-elect Smith said as future SA president he would do everything he could to aid students in the transition back to in-person classes.
Hyatt urged students to continue to be mindful of personal health and safety, so the progress toward normalcy will continue.
"I know everybody's tired and wants to throw away all their masks. I will probably be the first person to burn all of their masks when the time is appropriate, but it's not time yet. So just to the degree that people can still make good decisions and not throw caution to the wind just because we're tired of it," Hyatt said.
Hyatt emphasized how proud she was of students and the turmoil they have endured over the course of COVID-19.
"I'm just amazed at how resilient our students have been through it all," Hyatt said.