York faces backlash amidst return to campus

(Riddhi Jani)

Despite numerous provincial vaccination initiatives and the impending end of the Step Two restrictions implemented by the Ford government, York continues to face backlash from its community for the decision to begin returning to campus on January 31. 

This past Tuesday, York Federation of Students (YFS) released a list of demands in a statement with the hashtag #UnsafeAtYork

On the #UnsafeAtYork webpage, YFS demands that students are given the option to continue their education remotely, that York “abide by Step Three regulations within lecture halls and communal spaces, commit to transparent updates on campus ventilation, supply proper PPE, allowing community members to work from home when needed, provide adequate notice for a return to campus, bring back testing stations, and provide take-home tests.” 

Vice President of Campaigns and Advocacy for YFS Adaeze Mbalaja says their goal is to “have the university address these issues and create options for students to have autonomy over how they access their education based on their specific circumstances in the midst of the pandemic.” 

“Many students, staff, and faculty are afraid to speak out and express their concerns out of fear of retaliation or concerns of being dismissed by the university.” Mbalaja further acknowledges that many students voiced their frustrations with the university’s reopening plans during an Annual General Meeting on January 24.

While YFS and some members of the community attest that the return to campus is premature, York Deputy Spokesperson Yanni Dagonas asserts that plans for the winter term were “communicated widely” as early as May 12, 2021. 

“The pandemic has made clear the tremendous value of in-person learning. Some students who were admitted in 2020 or 2021 have yet to experience a class on campus, and many others are anxious to complete experiential components and courses required for graduation.

I recognize that the return to campus comes with both excitement and anxiety and want to acknowledge the work of our faculty and instructors to support our students’ education.”

Dagonas says that York understands students’ need for predictability, but has attributed the positive vaccination rate amongst students, staff, and faculty and their “commitment to making campuses as safe as possible” as a key reason for returning to in-person learning.

“The university encourages course instructors to make course materials and lecture recordings available online whenever feasible. Many instructors are employing these tools, and some are offering “HyFlex” options that allow students to choose to attend online or in person. However, this does not work well for every course, and moving to an entirely hybrid option across the university is not being considered.” 

Dagonas continues to state that York encourages those who are unable or choose not to return to campus to enroll in fully online courses, and further enforces that they are working with the government to ensure a safe return for all students.

Students are not the only group of York community members who are voicing their concerns. CUPE 3903 along with the York University Faculty Association (YUFA) are expressing similar concerns and feel that their worries are not being considered. 

“Student and union groups on campus have repeatedly asked for the same basic safety measures (tests, proper PPE, accommodations). York’s current plan to return to in-person classes without implementing these basic safety measures is disruptive and harmful,” says Chairperson, Vanessa Lehan.

YUFA has also been holding ongoing bargaining sessions with York regarding long-term financial stability and the parameters set by Bill 124.

Per a statement from Communications Officer Jody Berland, “YUFA has continued to face a surprisingly unsupportive and unyielding approach from the York administration. Their failure to show support for our members’ work is of particular concern during the ongoing pandemic and at a time of government-imposed compensation restraints.”

Mbalaja states that in less than 48 hours of the #UnsafeAtYork campaign, over 1,500 students have sent emails to the administration and over 2,000 students have expressed their concerns via their survey. ”Our hopes are that York takes new and flexible policies to the Senate to ensure a safe return to campus and creates remote options for students, staff, and faculty.”

About the Author

By Nick Mokrzewski

News Editor

news@excal.on.ca

Nick is in his third year of Film Production at York University. Raised in an artistic family, he’s never had much problem expressing himself whether it be through music, writing, or comedic rants. He’s a big sucker for watching and critiquing films, going to concerts, professional wrestling, and consuming coffee or chocolate. Nick intends to have many artistic pursuits in either writing, filmmaking, or anything that involves music — whatever suits his fancy on the given day. He’ll often tell you “life is short, seize the moment ‘cause tomorrow you might be dead!”

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