LUBBOCK, Texas — Monday was the first day of classes for students at Texas Tech – and perhaps the start of the most unusual fall semester the school has ever had, in this ‘new normal’ caused by COVID-19.
Texas Tech President Lawrence Schovanec said he is pleased that everything has been running smoothly so far, but is prepared for outbreaks.
“Rather than resorting to a massive shutdown, we’re talking about this concept that others have referred to as micro-closures. That might mean changing the modality of certain classes,” Schovanec said. “It might mean controlling traffic and population in certain areas or certain dorms. And even if we get to the very extreme condition that we might have to go to online.”
All of the protocols students and staff are expected to follow have been outlined thoroughly as students moved to campus over the past few weeks.
They have also been encouraged to take the ‘Texas Tech Pledge’ or ‘Texas Tech Commitment’ – pledging students and staff alike will wear their masks, social distance, wash hands, report illnesses and keep areas clean in order to combat COVID-19 on campus.
School officials have even created a ‘Commitment Crew’ of students to help normalize and enforce the guidelines.
“We are engaging in groups of students called the ‘Commitment Crew’ that will be traveling, walking around campus and giving out coupons to those that are wearing the masks, providing masks to those that don’t have them and just trying to always remind them of our responsibility to one another is so essential that we can stay open,” said Schovanec.
The university will also be holding a variety of classes and activities outside to reduce interaction.
“That will also provide space for students to come together for help sessions and study sessions,” Schovanec said. “I think it’s really important to acknowledge that even those students for whom the bulk of their classes are online, they need the opportunity to interact with their classmates and the faculty. So we’ll be providing those kind of experiences outdoors.”
Schovanec explained that it is important for everyone on campus to work together to combat the virus.
“We have this responsibility to each other and not just the students, the faculty and staff. Be responsible for what you do on campus, and especially off campus,” said Schovanec.
However, students expressed their concerns about how well the school will be able to enforce the policies, and how effective they may be. Some said asking the professor questions through a mask in a large lecture hall with 200 kids is a challenge.
“It just sounds like the teacher from Charlie Brown, where it just, it’s muffled and it doesn’t make any sense at all,” said first-year student Claire Christian. “And then they’re super strict about wearing [a mask], like how you wear it, can’t wear it under your nose, you can’t have like hardly any of your nose showing. It’s just like uncomfortable. I’m not used to it, it doesn’t feel good. It’s hot, especially in the Texas heat. But I understand why they’re doing it. And I think they’re doing a pretty good job of enforcing it.”
Even with this enforcement, Christian said it can be difficult to always enforce these policies. For students and faculty alike, there has been a learning curve.
“Even with the masks and the seating charts that they’re trying to make people have, the kids are still sitting right next to each other in classes, like they’re still sharing pens or whatnot,” Christian said. “The students are the ones that aren’t really paying much attention to it, but teachers I guess don’t really know what to say about it much. They don’t know how to say, ‘okay, move over because there’s too many kids.'”
Another student said that he’s concerned about how his learning is being impacted.
“I think the best way to study is to be around a group of friends and to interact. But now at the library, when am I able to do that anymore?” said first-year student Daniel Ponder. “We’re not able to sit in these large congregations of kids and study and talk and discuss and I think that is the most important part of schoolwork and we’re not going to be able to do those things this year.”
To learn more about how Texas Tech is keeping students and staff safe, read the guidelines on its website.