University, college students excited at prospect of returning to campus

When the pandemic forced colleges and ­universities to move their classes online, Quinn Cunningham had to leave Victoria and return to his family in the Okanagan-Similkameen.

“Personally, I couldn’t really afford to be in Victoria at school while not attending in-person classes,” the third-year history student said Tuesday. “I had to move away.”

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So the announcement that the provincial health officer supports a full return to in-person activities at B.C.’s colleges and universities in September was welcome news for Cunningham and some of his friends.

“To be perfectly candid, after living with my family for a year straight now, I was pretty excited to be moving back [to Victoria] in the fall,” said Cunningham.

“Personally, it’s been a good economic opportunity for me to save up and live with family, but not every student has that option. There’s probably been a lot of struggle.”

Cunningham is curious about how the return to campus will roll out.

“Zoom school has been kind of challenging. I know for me and some of my friends, it was challenging and we’re just figuring it out now.”

Michel Turcotte, executive director of the Camosun College student society, said several students have said they’re excited about returning to campus.

“Some of them do not like the Zoom classes or don’t think that style of education works as well for them as the in-person classes,” said ­Turcotte.

“Some are feeling a little lost and Zoom fatigue. I think if we had been facing the idea of Zoom in the fall, it would have further reduced the number of students participating.”

In a letter to the presidents of post-secondary institutions Monday, Dr. Bonnie Henry said she is confident that immunization and the continued application of guidelines for the post-secondary sector will support a safe and complete resumption of campus teaching, learning and research.

Henry said she shares the presidents’ concerns about the well-being of young adults who have been disproportionately affected with worsening mental health, financial instability and diminished future prospects.

Current projections suggest the majority of the adult population will be immunized by the summer, and those ages 18 to 24 should receive the vaccine no later than the end of July.

Two-metre physical distancing is not necessary in the controlled context of a post-secondary instructional setting, said Henry, noting student housing and dining will be able to return to normal or close-to-normal capacities if guidelines are followed.

The University of Victoria has begun planning for a full return to face-to-face teaching and learning this September, said president Kevin Hall, adding there are still “lots of unknowns.”

“We’ll do our best to keep everyone updated over the coming weeks and months while ­building flexibility into our planning,” Hall said.

When the final fall timetable is released in May, it will indicate how courses will be delivered, and registration will begin in June as usual, he said.

Camosun College will work with Island Health and WorkSafeBC to develop more detailed safety plans, said president Sherri Bell. “While we are planning for a resumption of activities on campus, we are cognizant of the need to be prepared for the unexpected,” said Bell.

Vancouver Island University is also planning for a safe return and will release its fall timetable on April 26.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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