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Yukon University shuts down campus after learning 2 students didn't self-isolate

Online classes will continue, after two students moved into university residence without completing their mandatory 14-day isolation period.

Most university classes online this year, campus expected to reopen Friday

Yukon University is closed to students for 48 hours and expected to reopen on Friday. However, most classes are already online this year and will not be affected. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Yukon University shut down its Whitehorse campus on the first day of class Tuesday afternoon, after learning two students did not self-isolate after crossing the territorial border and moving into residence.

The students did not have symptoms and are now isolating in a government facility, said communications co-ordinator Michael Vernon. 

The campus is closed to students for 48 hours, he said, and expected to reopen on Friday. 

Most Yukon University classes are online this semester, however, and will not be affected.

The chief medical officer has told the university the risk of COVID-19 infection is low, said Vernon. The students had crossed the Yukon border in the previous 24 hours, he said, before compliance officers contacted them.

Miranda Amos sits alone in a student space at Yukon University. Classes are mostly online this year, so campus will be much emptier. (Laura Howells/CBC)

"Over the next two days we're going to be tracing the movement and the interactions of those students," Vernon said. Students in residence were asked to "restrict their movements" during the shutdown.

The Whitehorse campus was already fairly empty before the shutdown, as students trickled in to pick up ID cards on Monday.

"I don't think you'd be able to meet or interact with a lot of people," said Sophia Eze, who moved into campus residence from Calgary. 

Every second dorm room is empty — and all her classes are online.

Sophia Eze moved into student residence at Yukon University this week, but her classes will be online and every second dorm will be empty. (Laura Howells/CBC)

There are restrictions on visiting other dorm rooms and having friends over. There were no icebreaker games or back-to-class barbecue. Instead, students got links to orientation videos.

"In a normal year ... this would be just a buzz of activities," said Janet Welch, vice-president academic and student services, on Monday. "Just a lot quieter this year."

Campus was already fairly empty before it shut down Tuesday afternoon. Janet Welch, vice-president of student services and academics, says normally the first week would be a flurry of activity. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Students on campus had mixed feelings about online learning. 

"I'm so nervous about it," said Melissa Davis, a third-year teaching student.

As the mom of two little boys, Davis says doing class at home this spring, "was like trying to focus with a wrestling ring in my living room."

Miranda Amos almost didn't go back to university this term.

"It feels sad and different," said Amos, who loves the social aspect of university.

"It'll be a challenge ... but I'm excited for that challenge."

Sparsh Arora, a second-year business administration student, stands by an empty student commons space at Yukon University. Arora works at the university and says he's happy with studying online. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Sparsh Arora, who works at the university as a second year business administration student, said he's happy to do class online.

"If I'm safe, that's what my first preference would be," he said.

The former Yukon College officially became a university earlier this year. Yukon University is one of several post-secondary institutions moving class online amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Once it reopens, students can still go to campus for Wi-Fi and supports. There are no meals for sale, so the cafeteria has been converted into a hub for student services.

Six-foot spacers line the floor and library staff wear masks. Browsing the library bookstacks is not allowed, and books will be quarantined for a few days after they're returned.

Students aren't allowed to browse the books at Yukon University this year. Instead, they can search the online catalogue and pick up their selections at the counter. Returned books will be quarantined for a few days before they can be signed out again. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Some courses will be in-person with reduced class size, like science labs, trades shop and art studio class. Those classes will be rescheduled while campus is closed.

Instructor Stephen Biggin-Pound says adapting courses for online was a time-consuming challenge.

"It requires rethinking what the course is and how we're going to deliver it," he said. "We don't want to do Zoom lectures all the time."

Biggin-Pound said his main concern was student access to Wi-Fi and the right technology.

Melissa Davis worries about taking class online with two young sons at home. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Some students were also worried about learning in a virtual environment.

"Having everything online is just going to make everything more difficult to understand," said Eze. Plus, she said, it'll be harder to talk one-on-one with peers in class.

Welch did not say when in-person classes might resume, but said university classes will be online for the remainder of the semester. She said they will move "as quickly as possible" when face-to-face classes can resume.

The university projects a 15 per cent drop in enrolment over the 2020-21 school year.

Tuition remains the same this year, Welch said, although on-campus fees won't be charged. She says developing online classes takes about 10 times more upfront work, and these courses will be "comparable" to in-class learning.

Masks are required in some circumstances at Yukon University. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Yukon grade schools are already back to the classroom. Davis says she feels a little jealous of her eight-year-old son.

"If my kid can go back to school as a guinea pig I feel like I should also be able to go back to the college and be in class in person," she said.

But first-year student Eric Snider sees an advantage to studying online in Yukon: "When the winter comes and gets really cold, I won't have to come back into class."

About the Author

Laura Howells is a journalist from Newfoundland who is currently reporting in Whitehorse. She most recently worked as a digital reporter and radio producer in Toronto. You can reach her at laura.howells@cbc.ca and follow her on Twitter @LauraHowellsNL.

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