After a year and a half of dealing with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Montclair State University finally made the transition back to mostly in-person learning. With this, however, came a whole slew of regulations and guidelines that students had to follow, many of which left them confused.
To fix this, the Student Government Association (SGA) hosted a town hall meeting alongside multiple other campus health organizations on Nov. 16. Students were allowed to attend in person or on Zoom, and they could submit questions anonymously beforehand.
The event featured panelists from the Department of Public Health, the University Health Department, the Disability Resource Center, Health Promotion as well as Public Health at Montclair. Margaree Coleman-Carter, the dean of students, was a panelist, and Dr. Dawn Soufleris, vice president for student development and campus life, was also there to answer questions.
The panelists took turns answering questions from students on different topics, such as visitor policies, testing protocols and concerns about Hawk Check.
A common question that was submitted anonymously before the town hall was about when commuter students would be allowed to visit residence halls. Coleman-Carter spoke about what the university had in mind.
“We have considered [that idea] for a possible spring semester, [Soufleris] and I, in our conversations,” Coleman-Carter said. “But again, it will depend upon where we are with the pandemic, with the virus, with our numbers here on campus, but certainly, it is a possibility.”
The ban of commuter students from residence halls has been a common complaint from students this entire semester. A petition seeking to change the policy currently has over 1,000 signatures.
Alice Oremil, a junior biochemistry major, was glad to hear the administration is considering a policy change.
“I am honestly very excited about that,” Oremil said. “Because that does bring back the life we knew before [COVID-19]. And, it’s also very important, like [the panelists] mentioned during the panel, to have that type of interaction because they see how it limited some students and how it mentally affected some students [to not have that] one-on-one interaction or that face-to-face interaction. So, the fact that they are looking to do that in the spring semester [makes me] very excited to see how that would go.”
Another point of interest for students is that after they come back from Thanksgiving break, they will be met with random testing of students, faculty and staff for COVID-19. Dr. Lisa Lieberman, chair of the Department of Public Health, explained the process.
“One of the things you may have heard about after Thanksgiving [is that] there’s going to be a random testing process that is designed to say ‘how we are doing on campus?’ [This will be done] by choosing a random sample of people after Thanksgiving to be tested to give us essentially a surveillance rate of positive cases,” Lieberman said. “That applies to faculty, staff and students.”
Oremil was happy about this as well.
“I honestly feel like it is needed because right now as students we’re not obligated to take [COVID-19] tests like we were last semester, I can say,” Oremil said. “So now that we’re not obligated to, we’re not too sure. And honestly, I do know that Hawk Check could not be reliable at some point. So, to make sure that our community and our campus is safe and healthy, the random selection of students is a great way to see if our community is still good.”
Zack Zannetti, a senior exercise science major, also had positive things to say about how the town hall went.
“It was really good to hear what the faculty and other students had to say about [COVID-19] on our campus,” Zannetti said. “Sometimes it feels like since we’re so big, it’s easy to get lost in all the information coming at us all the time or what resources are on campus, so it was really good to hear what everybody had to say about those things.”
Panelists were also pleased with how the town hall went. Coleman-Carter is one of them.
“I am so excited,” Coleman-Carter said. “I thought it went very well. I was thrilled with the number of questions, the quality of questions that came in from students and student participation. Again, I think our panelists were all great. [They had] good information to share, and we were all able to learn from each other tonight.”
Lieberman had positive things to say as well.
“I’m thrilled with how [the town hall] went,” Lieberman said. “It really was an opportunity for students to ask whatever was on their minds, and the panel ranged from every aspect of campus. I think it was able to answer the students’ questions, and I look forward to more conversations like this.”