On Jan. 23, the first day of the spring semester, the Princeton Graduate Students United (PGSU) and Princeton Disability Collective posted a petition to the front entrance of Nassau Hall. The petition advocated for remote learning options for vulnerable students and staff during the spring 2022 semester. The petition was emailed to staff and students on Thursday, Jan. 20, and had 363 signatures on the day it was posted.
The petition, according to an email from PGSU and the Princeton Disability Collective, asks for “the University to establish remote learning options for those who would, under the circumstances, prefer it” and specifies that they are not asking for a “return to lockdown.” The email also argued that “our lives are more valuable than Princeton’s desire to keep up appearances of a ‘normal’ Ivy League semester.”
PGSU sent another email to students encouraging advocacy for online learning accommodations, encouraging students to call administrations between the hours of 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Jan. 21. The email also encouraged students to email Acting Dean of the Graduate School Cole Crittenden, Dean of the College Jill Dolan, and Medical Director of University Student Health (UHS) Dr. Melissa Marks before 4 p.m. on Jan. 21.
In response to students’ concerns, Crittenden, Dolan, and Dean of the Faculty Gene Jarrett wrote an op-ed in The Daily Princetonian on Jan. 25, arguing for the safety and benefits of in-person learning.
“In light of our vaccination and booster requirements, our masking requirements, and our current twice-weekly testing requirements for all students, we continue to believe that our mitigation efforts are sufficient to continue with the in-person learning that is so central to our mission,” Crittenden, Dolan, and Jarrett wrote.
PGSU member Disha Karnad Jani GS said that “most students have been really supportive, but we haven’t really heard that much from the administration,” adding that “[a]t the department level, departments have been supportive, but it’s a little ad hoc.”
Ellen Li ’23, a member of the Disability Collective, told the ‘Prince’ she has felt concerned by how COVID-19 policy is being currently handled by the University.
“Administrators repeat the mantra that they are committed to in-person learning. Clearly, this ‘commitment’ is stronger than their commitment to student and staff health,” Li said in an interview.
“Several students in the disability community have decided to take leaves of absence for their mental health and physical safety,” she added. “Others are in a constant state of anxiety over the possibility of infection, especially now that there are shared dorm spaces with students who test positive for COVID.”
Li is an Associate Features Editor Emerita for the ‘Prince.’
The Princeton Disability Collective also expressed disappointment over administrators latest stance on in-person learning, conveyed in the Jan. 25 op-ed.
“[Dolan, Crittenden, and Jarrett] further neglect to acknowledge the risk of long COVID, the increased transmissibility of Omicron, and the particular risk of complications faced by those with pre-existing conditions,” Li said.
Jani indicated similar concerns to Li.
“Prioritizing the illusion of a completely normal Ivy League semester over some of the most vulnerable people in our community seems like a mistake,” Jani said.
Asked to comment on these statements, the University referred the ‘Prince’ back to the op-ed.
“This commitment [to in-person learning] is informed by the significant educational benefits associated with this mode of learning; the success we have already had over the fall semester with our mitigation efforts; and recommendations based on up-to-date modeling of infection rates that were made by the University’s public health team, which includes clinical and faculty experts,” wrote Crittenden, Dolan, and Jarrett in the op-ed.
Other universities delayed their in-person semesters, with local universities such as Rutgers-New Brunswick and Columbia University not resuming in-person classes until Jan. 31. Yale delayed plans for the spring semester until Tuesday, Jan. 25. Pennsylvania State University and the University of Michigan started the semester in person with classes and activities held as scheduled.
“We know that a number of schools are starting online to protect the most vulnerable people and also to mitigate the spread and not overwhelm the University Health Services,” Jani said. “It’s also worth noting that we’re not the only group calling for [accommodations].”
Last week, the Harvard Graduate Student Union (HGSU-UAW) asked for “increased social distancing in indoor spaces, waivers for mental health costs, undergraduate isolation housing, contract tracing, and improved COVID-19 guidance and accommodation.”
The petition by the PGSU and the Princeton Disability Collective demanded that Princeton prioritize the health and safety of students in the spring.
“We have the resources and the time to put a plan in place now for a safe and effective teaching and learning semester. Our health and safety matter. Princeton, start acting like it,” the petition stated.
Sidney Singer is an Assistant News Editor who has covered a variety of news on and around campus. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @sidneylsinger, or on Instagram @sidneysinger.
Assistant News Editor Lia Opperman contributed reporting to this piece.