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With fall semester approaching, SGA survey finds many students on the fence 

A survey conducted by the Student Government Association indicates that 70% of students think a hybrid reopening model — offering a blend or a choice of in-person and virtual instruction — is the best choice for the upcoming Fall 2020 semester.

The survey indicates that students are mixed on Mercer’s reopening plans. But it also suggests that many students are unsure if classes should move completely online for the upcoming semester.

Bridging the gap between students and administration

The survey, which was emailed to rising sophomores, juniors and seniors in late July, was taken by 801 students. The survey asked students to report their confidence in Mercer’s reopening plan, the instructional model that they most preferred and if they would take online classes this fall if given the choice.

On top of showing that 70% of respondents thought a hybrid option was the best approach for the fall term, 16% thought fully-online instruction was the best approach for the fall in contrast to 14% of respondents who leaned towards a fully in-person option.

“We heard students were really concerned that they felt they weren’t being heard out by the administration,” SGA President Savannah Lackey said. “Our goal with this was to just be able to show the administration what students were concerned about, that they did have these concerns, and be able to bridge that gap and communicate.”

Respondents also rated their confidence in the administration's reopening plan on a scale of one to five, with a one indicating a complete lack of confidence in the administration’s plan and a five indicating a high level of confidence. The average degree of confidence was 2.64.

“It’s a hard game to play because we’re not going to know if this is going to work until we go back to school,” said Adri Rosario, a rising junior and advocate for an online option at Mercer. “Even taking into consideration just the anxiety people are coming into school with, having such little confidence in the protocol means students are coming to school not feeling safe.”

Students share mixed opinions on the reopening plans

The survey results come in the midst of fierce debate over Mercer’s reopening plans, with the administration receiving vocal criticism for reopening campus in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. The survey, however, provides a more data-driven understanding as to where members of the Mercer community stand on reopening.

“From the amount of responses we’ve seen and the support that we’ve seen for the hybrid option, we sort of figured that’s what we’d expect to see in the results,” SGA Vice President Ashton Bearden said.

Bearden and Lackey note that they understand the concerns about returning to in-person instruction — with many students feeling worried about more vulnerable students and faculty members —  but they believe the administration is taking many precautions to keep students safe.

“I know students may not like the answers that are given to them, and that makes my heart sad, but it's just such a hard balance between trying to preserve the real college experience as well as making it completely safe for everyone,” Lackey said. “I think that’s the line Mercer is trying to walk.”

Lackey and Bearden brought up precautions like new temperature screening devices, the safety measures Lackey has seen in Mercer’s residence assistant training and the testing of students before they move into their residences halls as evidence that Mercer is trying to adequately respond to the pandemic.

Even with the precautions, Rosario is concerned that returning to campus will cause students to feel less vigilant, thus causing them to stop following the guidelines as consistently. On top of that, Rosario does not think it’ll be possible to make the college experience normal and safe.

“Everything has changed since March,” Rosario said. “To suggest that that is the goal is sort of denying the reality of what’s going to happen when we return. Instead of trying to make in-person classes something they just are not going to be, it would be better if we spent time over the summer or the time we have left to make online classes as best as we can make it."

Students divide on in-person and online options

Students were also evenly split when it came to whether they would choose to take online-only instruction if given the choice. Of the students polled, 39% said they would choose to take online classes, 35% said they would not choose online instruction and 26% were not sure. 

The survey did not ask students what factors motivated their decisions, such as whether they were concerned primarily for their personal health or the health of others. But Lackey and Bearden said that SGA is considering conducting another survey delving into those factors.

“It’s not going to be perfect,” Bearden said. “I understand that students are angry, but they are trying to give us the best experience that they can — with where we are at right now.”

The Mercer administration did not respond to The Cluster’s request for comment by press time.

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