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SGA holds first meeting of the semester, speaks to faculty about COVID-19 worries

SGA holds first meeting of the semester, speaks to faculty about COVID-19 worries

SGA holds first meeting of the semester, speaks to faculty about COVID-19 worries
January 27
19:55 2022

The Student Government Association held its first meeting of the 219th senate session Wednesday, where senators discussed COVID-19 concerns with the University of North Texas faculty and approved new member applications.

While actively quarantining with COVID-19, Senior Vice President for Student Affairs Elizabeth With joined the meeting virtually to discuss COVID-19 concerns with the senators. Despite the questioning period lasting for over 30 minutes, some senators felt they still did not get the answers they wanted.

“Honestly, I don’t think she answered any of the questions I had,” College of Music Senator Beige Cowell said. “I don’t hold it against her — I know obviously, with her position, there are certain things she can tell us, certain things she just doesn’t know the answer to.”

Some of Cowell’s questions for With included worries that music students are at high risk for contracting COVID-19 because of the large class sizes and the inability of most students who play instruments to wear a mask during an entire class period.

“One of my professors is out right now because of [COVID-19],” Cowell said.

Cowell brought up examples of past successful online music classes from when the pandemic first shut down UNT in 2020 and asked why those methods could not be reinstated due to the new COVID-19 variants.

“A lot of the students in the College of Music right now are very worried,” Cowell said.

In response, With said the data UNT has gathered, which showed “hardly any” recent hospitalizations for fully vaccinated individuals and mostly minor symptoms in those who did test positive, does not give any reason for UNT to completely “go remote” again.

“Can a faculty member take a course virtual? Yes, they can, with permission,” With said. “But we don’t believe as an institution that that is the right thing for us to be doing right now.”

College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences Senator Grant Johnson asked With if UNT administration had heard about an upcoming Thursday protest organized by students upset with UNT’s COVID-19 policies. With said it “was not feasible” for faculty to offer both in-person and virtual classes at the same level of quality.

“To offer an online course takes time,” With said. “It’s not something that can instantly be done and provide that quality for students.”

College of Engineering Senator Andy McDowall disagreed, stating starting a Zoom meeting or recording audio of a lecture did not seem difficult.

“I think a lot of students who are quarantining would agree with me when I say, ‘that’s better than nothing,’ which is what a lot of students are getting right now,” McDowall said.

With emphasized that any students struggling with missing classes due to COVID-19 should reach out to faculty, such as their professor, or speak with the Office of Disability Access to arrange more personalized options if immunocompromised. For students who are not immunocompromised, With recommended to get the COVID-19 vaccine to lessen the threat of severe symptoms if students test positive.

“We know that being vaccinated and boosted goes a long way,” With said.

During the discussion, With stated some reasons behind re-opening campus were beliefs that students were safer on campus, where vaccines and tests were readily available, and the mental health of students asking for in-person classes were considered.

“We know this is a very difficult time,” With said. “I promise you – faculty and staff are doing all that they can to try to make our campus as safe as possible and as accessible as possible for everyone.”

With recommended that students struggling with mental health access help at the Student Health and Wellness Center.

“I understand that ‘mental health’ is being thrown around,” SGA Vice President David Muñoz-Sarabia said. “What about students who have mental health issues that are fearful of being in person and being next to a student who is coughing and not wearing a mask? Or being packed into a room?”

Citing both UNT and outside data, With said COVID-19 will likely become endemic in the future and become similar to the flu, turning COVID-19 into something everyone “will be living with long into the future.”

“We believe that the omicron variant is peaking and peaking soon,” With said. “All the other institutions that you’re seeing that had gone remote for the first couple of weeks will be back in person, most of them next week.”

Before leaving, With stated she plans to return to future SGA meetings to answer any further questions.

The SGA senators also approved the applications of new members, applauding loudly as they welcomed political science junior Anthony Taylor and ecology sophomore Winston Ihemeremadu back into the lecture hall as senators. Taylor and Ihemeremadu were then able to vote and approve political science and criminal justice senior Bakhtawar Yasir as SGA’s newest election board commissioner.

“I’m super excited,” Muñoz-Sarabia said. “I want to reach a full senate. I know that we had a lot of senators leave and resign but we’re getting a lot more people now that are more eager.”

Featured image: SGA senators sit in the senate chamber during the first meeting of the semester on Jan. 27, 2022. Photo by Lillian Vest.

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Alex Reece

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