Western University students push back, asking for hybrid model instead of in-person classes

Students at Western University started a petition asking the university to switch to a hybrid model and give the option of online classes some students. The petition received almost 3,000 signatures, and seeks to accommodate those who don't feel comfortable coming to campus, due to the rising cases of the Omicron variant. 

Two petitions have received nearly 3,000 signatures from students and their families

Students at Western are pushing for a hybrid learning model so that all students can feel safe in their education. (Colin Butler/CBC)

Students at Western University have started a petition asking the school to switch to a hybrid model that would give some students the option of online classes.

The petition has received almost 3,000 signatures, and seeks to accommodate those who don't feel comfortable being on to campus due to rising cases of the Omicron variant. 

On Friday, the university announced that all students, except first-year undergraduates, will return to in-person learning on Jan. 31.

First-year students will have to wait until Feb. 28 to attend in-person classes and move into residence buildings. 

The university said its decision was due to the increased transmission risks associated with Omicron in congregate living setting such as residences. 

Many first-year students are frustrated with this decision and have started a petition with 2,500 signatures asking to be allowed to live in residence now instead of waiting until the end of February. 

Prioritize our health and safety, students say

Jerry Liu is a fourth-year computer science at Western University, he's pushing for a hybrid model that benefits everyone. (Submitted by Jerry Liu)

Jerry Liu, a fourth-year computer science student at the university, believes having a hybrid model can keep students safe while also considering their individual needs. 

 After previously contracting COVID-19, Liu fears getting the virus again, which is why he's urging the university to rethink its decision and offer online courses to ease students' anxiety. 

"Students should have the right to stay home and healthy if they can," he said. "They need to make a decision that benefits all students who need different types of support."

Liu added that international students are also scrambling to rearrange their plans to return to Canada amid travel restrictions, due to the short notice of two weeks. 

"They're only given 14 days to figure it out, it's extremely difficult and expensive to get a flight, not to mention how dangerous it is given the COVID situation," he said. 

Tensions are also rising for Sarah Brunke, a second-year graduate student who has Multiple Sclerosis affecting her nervous system. She uses medication that weakens her immune system.

Sarah Brunke is a second-year graduate student who is immunocompromised, she says she doesn't feel safe returning to in-person learning just as yet. (Submitted by Sarah Brunke)

"I don't feel safe going to campus given the rise of Omicron," she said. "The building we study in is really small and there's not enough space in it." 

John Doerksen, Western's Acting Provost & Vice-President (Academic), said the university will provide students with information this week on accommodations for pre-booked travel, personal circumstances, or courses requiring in-person attendance. 

First-year students unfairly targeted

First-year undergrad Josh Renton said it's devastating watching other students be able to go back to in-person, while his cohort has to wait another month. 

"It feels like Western doesn't care about us, there's a sense of resentment building within students," he said. 

"If we're all vaccinated and comfortable with returning, then I don't see why this is an issue. We're all concerned about our mental health and missing out on the university experience." 

Josh Renton is a first-year student at Western. He feels his cohort has been unfairly singled out (Submitted by Josh Renton)

"It just feels like we're being unfairly targeted, we're all paying the same tuition as students in other years, and we're getting a different treatment compared to them," said first-year student Chloe Vanderlugt . 

Renton and Vanderlugt said virtual classes can be quite isolating with the lack of social connection, increased screen time, and having to teach themselves. 

Doerksen added that Western is managing the number of students in residence to reduce transmission while also giving students more time to get their Covid booster shots.

The students hope their voices will be heard by the university, and that a way can be found to accommodate their needs.