By Carolina De Sousa Lima Azevedo
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most classes at Tufts were conducted in a virtual or hybrid format from March 2020 to the end of the 2020–2021 school year. However, thanks in large part to the widespread distribution of vaccines throughout last spring and summer, the fall 2021 semester saw life at Tufts begin to slowly return to normal. While we were still required to wear masks indoors and frequently test for COVID-19, we saw the return of in-person club meetings and activities, as well as mostly in-person classes.
Despite the fact that the vast majority of courses were held in person, over 250 courses across the university were entirely virtual, and nearly 400 were hybrid in the fall of 2021. Continuing this trend, in spring 2022, most classes are in person, though 94 courses are still virtual and over 100 are taught in a hybrid format.
Singing was one discipline hit hard by the pandemic, as it was banned on campus from the fall 2020 semester until April 2021. The Tufts music department had to quickly work out how to adapt its curriculum. Gospel Choir, a class that generally averages about 200 students per semester, was adjusted to become a virtual and asynchronous academic course, History of Gospel Choir. It wasn’t until the fall 2021 semester that the class was able to return to its original format and meet in person once again.
“For a year at least, we got a taste of what it was like to be denied the human instinct to congregate and to sing … and to me, it’s a need that we have as people,” Professor David Coleman, who teaches Gospel Choir, said. “I’m glad that we’re able to at least feed that part of our human experience by being able to meet [in] person [this year]. With all the precautions and all the things in place, it doesn’t change the fact that we’re able to do that.”
Coleman’s excitement about returning to in-person classes last fall was shared by Professor Amy Lischko. She teaches in the Department of Public Health and Community Medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine and in the undergraduate community health and economics departments on the Medford/Somerville campus.
“I was really happy to be back,” Professor Lischko said. “[Teaching virtually] doesn’t have that same benefit of the energy that you get from the students … when they’re making connections and asking good questions that you just don’t get when you’re virtual, staring at a screen. I just feel like it’s really hard to do.”
Caitlin Duffy took most of her classes in person last semester, but due to professor conflicts, her classes were mostly online for about the first three weeks of this semester. While Duffy tolerated having classes virtual for a short period of time, she intends to never sign up for another online class.
“You do not meet people when you’re online,” Duffy, a sophomore, said. “You don’t meet people, especially asynchronously. A big part of college is meeting people, and a big part of learning, at least for me, is finding groups to study with and you can’t do that successfully online as easily as you can if you’re in person sitting next to somebody.”
Lischko noted the positive effects that returning to an in-person format had on students’ learning experience.
“[The students] were more excited [to be in person],” Lischko said. “I noticed a definite, happier feeling in the class this year than last year. Everybody was chatting before class and happy to see each other, happy to be in class. I noticed that right off the bat, and there was just a level of energy in the class that I didn’t notice last year.”
Coleman explained that although it was difficult to go about a year without in-person singing, he understood why the decision to ban singing was made.
“I think it’s a really difficult job to have to make those decisions for an entire community,” Coleman said. “[Banning singing] was the right decision, based on the simple idea that there wasn’t enough data or science to understand how the disease worked. What we did know was that choir rehearsals, anecdotally across the world, were becoming superspreader events.”
Duffy added that while the policies may seem restrictive compared to other college campuses, they do serve a purpose.
“I think the COVID policies are definitely in place to keep us safe,” Duffy said. “I think they’re very different [from] a lot of other colleges, especially other colleges in the area, in terms of we’re still a lot more restricted. But I do understand the purpose behind it.”
Lischko agreed, praising Tufts’ handling of the pandemic.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, and throughout the pandemic, I really feel like Tufts has done a great job at overseeing this whole process,” she said. “It must just be so much work and a lot of responsibilities, so I feel like they’ve done a really good job.”
However, despite her respect for the university’s past handling of the pandemic, Lischko believes that Tufts could possibly go further in loosening restrictions and returning to normalcy.
“Overall, I feel like testing probably doesn’t make sense anymore because so many people have it, or have had it, [COVID-19 cases are seeing] a downward trend now, [so] I feel like I’m not sure how useful the testing is now,” she said. “It’s tricky because you don’t want a huge outbreak either, so you don’t want hundreds of students coming down with it. … I think that the data [is] really trending positively and they’ll probably have to pull back on some of these requirements.”