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Yesterday, I taught my fifth day of face-to-face classes at Georgia College. Several colleagues around the country have reached out after reading a piece in Inside Higher Ed ("Higher Ed's Hottest Hot Spot") about cases reported on our campus. I can only share my personal experiences, and they are as follows:

Every student in my class wears a mask. The college has expended tremendous effort to comply with health recommendations, and students sit at least six feet apart. Signs are everywhere. As students walk on campus, they are wearing masks. Lovely picnic tables dot the front lawn, all of which are 10 to 15 feet apart. I sat with my son yesterday on one of them as we enjoyed our take out lunch from the dining hall. Speaking of the dining hall, they have a convenient area where dining hall workers will retrieve any item available and pack it up to go. Chairs and tables have been removed from busy areas.   

Campus has changed drastically in many ways. I even observed a giant traffic sign in front of our iconic fountain that flashed “Wear a Mask. Avoid Crowds. Keep GC Safe.” The campus leadership are focused on student safety, and they are making every effort to educate and advocate for best health practices. 

Staff are calling students who have tested positive to check in on them. Staff are calling students who are in quarantine or in isolation. Staff, in some cases, are driving to where they live to drop off meals -- they care.  

We care.  

I am not going to say that this endeavor – of returning to face-to-face instruction during a pandemic – is without challenges. Certainly, students and employees have acquired the virus. Yes, I have heard of parties and open bars. Yes, I have spent a great deal of time responding to student emails and keeping up with varying attendance. Yes, I have had to remind my students to make sure their noses and mouths are covered, especially when called on or speaking. 

One class I teach is entirely face-to-face; however, because several students contracted the virus, I decided to simulcast – in other words, I fire up an online meeting platform during class using a wide-angle camera provided by the university. 

The article said that faculty had not been instructed to provide instructional continuity to students in quarantine. I do know that I came into this semester with a plan to serve my students in any way I could during this national emergency, and to that end, I am, like so many of my colleagues, committed to working with all students, including those who are sick at home. I simulcast.   

I do not know what other professors do, but the university has made providing content to students at home easy with numerous technological tools at our disposal. Our Center for Teaching and Learning is constantly reaching out to us, asking how they may be of assistance and providing instruction on web-based and online learning. 

Two other classes of mine are split because they were too large to be accommodated with social distancing in place. One half of the class is physically in class on Tuesdays, and the other half of the class joins via an online meeting platform. On Thursday, they switch. This took some getting used to – it’s something I’ve never done before. But I’m getting better at it.  I call on students who are physically present and those who are online. Everyone is involved, and everyone is trying. 

In the first few days, the classes did get thinner and thinner. I am, however, observing students emerging from isolation or quarantine, and the numbers do not appear to be growing exponentially among students. 

All this is to say that we, like so many Americans, are putting one foot in front of another and doing the best we can. Some do so better than others. Those who serve Georgia College, from the cafeteria workers to the administrative staff, from classroom instructors to maintenance and custodial staff, everyone has been adjusting, has been working – dare I say harder than ever before – to provide a safe and enriching campus environment.   

So, to those of you who ask, “I heard . . . how are you doing?”   

My answer is, I am okay. We are okay. It’s been hard at moments, but to hear students interacting, to see them sitting or playing on the front lawn, to see their eyes light up with laughter, and even to be approached with their questions, I am grateful, and I sincerely hope everyone can work together, can do their part to arrest this virus so that we can continue to provide students with a quality liberal arts education on our beautiful campus.

--Jehan El-Jourbagy
Assistant Professor, Business Law & Ethics
Georgia College & State University

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