Lehigh has announced that they are hopping to have an in-person semester in the fall. (Nora Thomson/B&W Staff)

Students and faculty react to plans for an in-person fall semester

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Late last month, Lehigh announced plans to have the fall 2021 semester operate primarily in person. 

The email, sent on Feb. 22 from Nathan Urban, provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs, and Patricia Johnson, vice president for Finance and Administration, outlined the university’s academic, social and health aspirations for the fall. 

The university anticipates the fall semester will begin as planned on Aug. 23.

Since Lehigh went remote last March, a virtual college experience has become the norm. Students and professors alike are now accustomed to classes and meetings over Zoom, and organizations across campus have managed to operate in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A return to an in-person campus environment could pose challenges over the coming months.

“If there’s anything positive that came out of this year, it has taught us that maybe there are certain things that we don’t need to do the way we have done for the past twenty years,” said Tong Soon Lee, a professor and department chair of music. 

Lee said there are aspects of virtual learning that are more effective than in-person class. He pointed to small group discussions and close analysis of class material as activities that have become more effective and efficient in a virtual setting. 

Looking forward to next semester, Lee said he will take some of what he’s learned from virtual classes and implement them in an in-person environment. 

Lee said his teaching relies on in-person interaction, instrument collaboration and music theoretical discussion.

“I think that in-person interaction is crucial,” he said. “Certainly for a class that has an experiential, hands-on type of pedagogical component.”

A major concern for in-person classes next semester is the health and wellness of the Lehigh community. Many students are excited to return to in-person classes, but there is an understanding that health and safety protocols will be mandatory. 

Over the past two semesters, in-person classes have required social distancing and face masks in order to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. The university is encouraging all members of the Lehigh community to get vaccinated and is considering adding the COVID-19 vaccine to its list of required vaccines for students. 

This mandate could be a challenge for those unable to be inoculated. 

Enzo Zechiel, 24, said he believes taking classes in person next semester will be less risky for spreading COVID-19. Zechiel has experienced one in-person class in his time at Lehigh so far.

“I think a lot of the in-person classes now are doing a good job of spreading people out in the classroom, and obviously everyone is wearing masks,” Zechiel said. “That will definitely stay the same.” 

Although these regulations will be helpful, Zechiel believes protocols for larger classes will be more challenging. He said the school should survey students and faculty on how next semester should be conducted.

After conducting his entire first year at Lehigh virtually, James Gasek, ‘24, is looking forward to what next semester holds.

“The whole point of having in-person classes is meeting new people and also having a dedicated area to concentrate that isn’t your dorm,” Gasek said. 

The university will likely make more announcements about next semester in the coming months, and the FAQ page will be consistently updated with news pertaining to the fall. 

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