Students at the University of Georgia staged a “die-in” demonstration — playing dead on the campus lawn — to protest the school’s August 20 opening plans.
The Thursday event, which included 50 graduate and undergraduate students, along with faculty members, was organized by the United Campus Workers of Georgia, a higher education union. Spread out 6 feet apart, participants lay motionless on the grass outside the office of university president Jere W. Morehead, holding makeshift tombstones and signs that read, “RIP Campus Safety” and “We are not dispensable.”
This fall, the University of Georgia will offer different course options: Some classes will be held face-to-face with social distancing measures, others will combine in-person lessons with various online components, while some will be fully virtual. The school will provide digital thermometers and reusable and washable cloth face coverings to all campus members.
Supporters also signed a UCWG petition with more than 12,000 signatures, addressed to the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia with three demands: Require face masks on campus, allow staff, students and faculty to engage remotely without repercussion and provide free, frequent and accurate COVID-19 testing for the entire community. (On August 7, the university shared an update that coverings are required indoors when social distancing isn’t possible).
Other requests include hazard pay for all essential employees who cannot work remotely (including back pay), guaranteed paid leave when employee are required to quarantine or isolate and a virtual town hall with university administration to flesh out fall plans, per a press release sent to Yahoo Life by the organizers.
“The University System of Georgia is deeply committed to the health and safety of students, faculty and staff, and continues to follow COVID-19 guidance from the Georgia Department of Public Health and the CDC,” a spokesperson from the University System of Georgia tells Yahoo Life. “Preparations for fall semester resulted from a comprehensive and detailed planning process that began in April, led by campus presidents of USG’s 26 institutions with input from hundreds of campus stakeholders.”
Elementary, middle and high schools schools throughout the state have already contended with the coronavirus — Cherokee County School District announced that 11 students and two staff members had tested positive, asking those exposed to quarantine for two weeks. Viral photos depicting North Paulding High School students, many of whom did not wear masks while crowding in hallways, led to the suspension of a teen who took the photos. Her punishment was later revoked and wiped from her record. And Barrow County Schools switched to an online format after 90 staff members quarantined to “due to a confirmed case of COVID-19, a suspected case, or direct contact with a confirmed case” before school began.
“We wanted to show that students, faculty and staff are very concerned with what we feel are inadequate plans from the university,” Bryant Barnes, a graduate student and teaching assistant at the University of Georgia, tells Yahoo Life. He added that classroom safety measures like plexiglass barriers to separate instructors from students are insufficient.
Professor Sujata Iyengar, who teaches English at the University of Georgia, attended the die-in to support her students and like-minded colleagues. “As a teacher, I am upset that we are not allowed to make our own decisions about effective ways of teaching,” she tells Yahoo Life. “No one is saying to close the school — but we need a cleaner air system and better screening and backup plans [when people get sick.]”
University spokesperson Greg Trevor sent Yahoo Life a statement that was issued on Thursday: “At the end of today’s protest, a copy of a petition to the University System of Georgia Board of Regents was presented to the President’s Office. The petition expressed concerns of graduate students related to COVID-19 planning. We have affirmatively addressed the core of these concerns through our comprehensive planning over the summer, and just yesterday, President Morehead announced that he was making additional private funds available to assist UGA students facing financial hardship.”
Barnes is planning ahead for the start of school. “I’ll be wearing a mask when I’m on campus,” he tells Yahoo Life, “and I’ll encourage my students to meet remotely.”
For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.
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