This fall semester has been unlike any other in the history of Montclair State University. After the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic brought the spring 2020 semester to a screeching halt and a less than ideal finish, administrators and students alike had to approach and persist through this fall semester without any prior reference point of which to proceed from.
As we break for winter recess and look ahead to the spring, we now have a reference point to look upon in order to make sure the health and safety of all members of the university community are prioritized in every way possible.
With that, here is the Montclair State administration’s fall 2020 semester report card.
Before school reopened in August, a course of action not particularly popular among other New Jersey colleges, a health and wellness survey called “Hawk Check” was announced and launched on the Montclair State website. Those traveling to campus were required to complete the survey. If their results showed they were not experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19 and had not been recently exposed to someone with the virus, they would be permitted to go onto the campus. However, once non-residential students, faculty and staff arrived at campus, there was no screening process in place to make sure they had either completed the Hawk Check survey or were even given permission to be on campus. The Montclarion’s feature editor, Casey Masterson, wrote an article criticizing the ineffectiveness of this system.
The Hawk Check survey has since been updated and now requires completion by residential students as well, prior to entering their dorms. While a restructuring of Hawk Check and the expansion of safety measures must be recognized, the adjustments made did not at all include the screening process that had been missing. Amidst record setting case numbers this month and students being home for the holidays, a return of students and faculty to campus must include a comprehensive and strictly enforced screening process to make sure that any cases of COVID-19 are identified and contained.
Once students were sent home and in-person classes were canceled and resumed in digital formats for the rest of the spring semester, students were given a pass-fail option for any amount of classes they wished to apply it to. This was done to aid in any thwarts in academic performance that occurred as a result of that transition, as well as any other hardship experienced by students as a result of the pandemic. Earlier this semester, petitions began circulating amongst the student body with the goal of the university allowing a pass-fail option for fall semester courses as well.
As conversations regarding the issue grew, an announcement was made with news of a pass-fail option for one course of each undergraduate student’s choosing; this was almost immediately met with widespread backlash and disappointment throughout the student body. Criticism of that action is included in an article written by Ben Caplan, The Montclarion’s interim managing editor. What was surely a good intentioned action failed to accommodate an ailing student body that was obviously struggling with pandemic fatigue, which has been taking its toll on an educational format lacking in inspiration and motivation.
Promotes Positive Learning Environment
From the beginning of the pandemic, the mental health of those affected by COVID-19 has taken a serious turn for the worse. Rates of depression, anxiety and suicide have skyrocketed. Fortunately, Montclair State’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) updated its services to meet the necessary standards of its struggling students. Remote appointments at CAPS have been made available to students via telephone and video meetings, the opportunity to register for TAO Connect (Therapy Assistance Online) is accessible for free to anyone with a Montclair State email address, and a link to MiResource to find a mental health professional in your local area is also included.
However, a promotion of these services to students has been lackluster. Montclair State is present and active on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and many, if not all students, follow their school on those platforms. While an update of CAPS services was entirely necessary and was initiated, those services do not help if students are not actively made aware of them.
The Montclarion and its opinion writers have utilized their role as enforcers of checks and balances of Montclair State administration and to our university leaders’ credit, those calls for change have been met with open eyes and ears, and implementation of new policy and procedures have been established accordingly.
While President Susan Cole and her colleagues did well to get us back to school in August with proper safety precautions in place and having monitored the effectiveness of those measures throughout the past 3 1/2 months, there remain improvements that need to be made in order to create a safer environment for the campus community, both on and off campus, come February.