Welcome back Concordians!
It’s the start of a new academic year; one where we’ve renewed our STM cards, met our classmates face-to-face, and switched out our pyjamas for real pants to go to class. We’re nudging towards what once was, but with masks, sanitization, and a passport on our phones. We’re finally experiencing what was promised for adhering to health regulations, such as vaccination and quarantining for the last several months .
Which is to say, it’s the start of what we’ve all heard so many times that it’s already worn out its appeal: the “new normal.” Beyond the fact it’s been overused to placate our general anxiety of the future and justify ever-changing health safety regulations, it’s not the right term, le mot juste, to describe our collective, health and safety future.
Normal is a standard; the status quo. It implies what we find typical in our day-to-day life. But that’s impossible to define in a time when our foundation is unstable: we’re riding through, and responsibly obeying, ever changing measures based on irregular swells of COVID infections. It’s been dizzying to say the least.
Last year, isolation and Zoom fatigue took a toll on us. Our home environment molted together to form a bedroom/classroom/workplace all-inclusive space in the same quality of an infomercial gadget we’ve never wanted. For many, schoolwork piled on as teachers assigned extra video lectures and projects; we dealt with unstable internet connections and studying in different time zones. The Concordia Reddit feed was saturated with students’ comments describing suffering from increased anxiety and poor mental health.
Back then, as a solution, students demanded the option for pass/fail to return, and during the 2021 winter semester, we got it. It didn’t fix everything, but for many it was a load off our shoulders — except it only came after CSU representatives and the student community advocated for this change. However, as we return to hybrid in-person instruction, we call on the university to proactively better support students who need it most.
A few weeks ago, Concordia began increasingly executing the new hybrid learning environment to an online/in-person schedule decided by the university. While most students can adhere to this cautious approach, many international students who have moved to Montreal and students with disabilities were taken by surprise right before the semester began.
How can the university claim to adequately support students with disabilities while not enforcing any policy that would allow them to solely access classes online to protect their health?
Students who are immunocompromised must advocate for themselves and be at the mercy of different departments and professors’ willingness to help them access class material. International students who are unable to come to Canada right away are told to pick online classes; that is the extent of a “hybrid” semester. Some are paying rent in two cities, stretching their budget to pay for both the life they built in their home country and in Montreal. The total extent of a hybrid system promised to Concordians in the fall is to simply pick from the limited classes offered online.
Exercising health safety practices while overlooking students who are exponentially affected by a pandemic, both financially and physically, is failing the students who need help. That isn’t a “new normal” reality we live in; it’s an unacceptable policy failure that has to be changed.
After a year of online classes, providing a robust online alternative for students should be a given; Concordia has the capability to make education accessible for all students.
In our inaugural issue, we call on Concordia University to better support our student population who deserve a normal where they can better succeed, and survive in this pandemic.
Photograph by Alex Hutchins