Students react to the University’s policies regarding COVID-19. Photo by James McIntosh.

This is a developing story. For the most recent updates, follow @RhodyCigar and @mary_lind18 on Twitter. 

One day after the University of Rhode Island announced an extension of spring break and a temporary transition to remote online classes, the community is hard at work trying to figure out its next steps. Here’s what some in the community are saying about the recent changes in the schedule for the semester. 

Kate Dyson, a junior theater major with concentrations in directing and design, said that online courses would be challenging for her major.

“It’s near impossible for theater and other arts classes like drawing and music to be done in the online format and it feels like the University is ignoring that section of its students,” Dyson said.

Dyson is a history minor as well and said that those classes can transfer to online pretty easily, but for her theater classes this seems “daunting and frankly impossible.”

“One of our classes is literally called ‘Voice and Movement’ where the whole basis of the class is ensemble building and using our bodies,” said junior Mary Mullane, a theater major who is concentrating in acting. “Everyone in the department is very scared about ‘moving online’ as the majority of our classes seem impossible to hold online.”

Students in the theater department received an email on Wednesday night from professor and department chair David T. Howard acknowledging the challenges that this situation will pose in the upcoming weeks, and reassuring students that the department will be doing everything that they can to help keep things running smoothly.

Howard spoke about possible solutions that the theater department is looking at.

“Many of our classes are experiential or hands-on classes, but we have a good chunk [that] are very easily movable to online methods, so at least that section of our world is okay,” Howard said. 

Classes that are considered easily movable to online within the theater department are theater history courses.

“The other classes are going to be a bit of a challenge,” Howard said. “But we’re hoping, as we are creative people, that we will find incredibly unique solutions to solve those.”

Potential workarounds for hands-on classes could include utilizing platforms like YouTube and TikTok, according to Howard.

“It might be an exciting and different opportunity, and it is a product that everyone uses now,” Howard said. “Is it going to be the best? I don’t know, but it’s worth experimenting, and that’s also part of what we look at [creative] opportunities for us to look at different ways that we can practice our art.”

Howard said that the theater department faculty are meeting tomorrow to further discuss how experiential classes will be conducted through online learning as well as the state of upcoming productions, which include one-act plays for a directing class, final performances for THE 100 and the spring musical, “Spamalot.” As of right now, though, he said that this will not affect students who are set to graduate in the spring, nor is it likely that students will have to repeat classes for this semester due to the schedule changes.

Despite these reassurances and contact from the department, theater students are still expressing frustrations.

“We have so, so much trust in our professional staff, but it is extremely frustrating because we have absolutely no control over what is happening, while there is also no one to blame for it,” said Mullane. “Of course we want the shows to continue [but] we have to think of the bigger picture.”

Theater students aren’t the only ones worried about how this will impact their classwork. While challenges are posed to the vast majority of classes, other experiential classes such as labs or clinicals for students in nursing or pharmacy are also up in the air.

Students who work as Teachers Assistants (TAs) are trying to balance their own concerns with the concerns of the classes they work in, as well as what’s going on with how they’re being paid.

“I can’t be paid since I can’t work,” said one student who is a TA for a math course. They asked to remain anonymous.

Jourdan Miller, a theater and film double major, is a TA for FLM 351: Advanced Cinematography. He’s been in contact with the professor, and they’re trying to work out what to do next.

“We rely on face-to-face interactions and hands-on experience to get the information that we need and certain things that we learn just can’t be learned on the Internet, so it’s a tough position to be in,” Miller said.

A big part of this particular class is about learning how to shoot and work with the technology available in the Media Equipment Center in Ranger Hall.

“You can’t learn that by watching a YouTube video,” said Miller. “You have to do it hands-on.”

Students are also expressing concerns beyond academics.

“I would have wanted to know before spring break started so I could take what I needed with me,” said the same anonymous student quoted earlier. 

Others have expressed concern about the University’s decision to not offer refunds for housing. As students still have the option to return to campus, refunds won’t be issued, according to an email sent out by URI Communications on Wednesday afternoon. 

Frankie Minor, an assistant vice president for student affairs and the director of Housing and Residential Life, said that after Friday, March 13, refunds wouldn’t be available regardless.

“We have a sliding scale that the earlier in the semester that you cancel with us, the more of a refund that you get,” said Minor. “But after the eighth week we’ve been open, there are no refunds. So even if this had not occurred, there would be no refunds.”

In a normal situation, students would have had to fill out the cancellation form by midnight on Friday, March 13 and then move everything out of their room and get checked out by a staff member that day. That second portion, according to Minor, is going to be pushed until next Friday, March 20 to give people more time to see what happens in the next week.

Amidst all of these frustrations, though, some students and community members generally agree with the decisions made by the University.

Brenda Celona owns Total Image Hair Salon, located on the first floor of the Union. 

“We as stylists wash our hands more than anyone [and] we have been extra cautious with the current situation,” Celona said. 

In addition to the daily sterilization already practiced in the salon, they’ve also been “extra cautious” in recent weeks with cleaning all surfaces that staff and clients touch, including countertops and the iPad used for payments. They’ve also been asking all of their clients to reschedule appointments if they are sick.

In addition to students, her clientele includes other people who live on and off-campus, local residents and alumni. Business will be slower than usual in the coming weeks, but that’s not her main concern.

“My first priority is my family and my clients,” Celona said. 

Some of her clients include students and others with health issues that put them at higher risk for the virus as well as older clients. She also has a sister who is currently battling stage 4 cancer and doesn’t want to risk transmitting anything to her.

“This decision was a tough one and well thought out,” said Celona, “[and] I believe it is the right decision despite the financial impact it might have on my salon.”

Mullane also agrees with the University’s decision and said that “it is better to take precaution.”

However, Mullane noted, she is “really only worrying about classes and productions,” and for students with different circumstances, this situation could be playing out a lot differently.

“Not every student here has a home they can go to,” said Mullane. “Not every student here can eat without a meal plan, or survive without work-study. We need to be there for the people who have it harder than us, and in a time where it is easy to feel selfish and upset, we really need to think of the bigger picture.”

The Cigar has reached out to the deans of several colleges on campus as well as several department chairs for comment on how they are working with this situation and will be reaching out to more in the coming days.