A student walks to class on the first day back on campus for the winter quarter on Jan. 31, 2022.
A student walks to class on the first day back on campus for the winter quarter on Jan. 31, 2022.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
UC Santa Cruz

‘I love it, but I hate it’: Return to UCSC campus a mix of ups and downs

Students who were back on the UC Santa Cruz campus on Monday morning expressed excitement, concern, encouragement and frustration. After two weeks of remote classes due to a surge in COVID-19 cases caused by Omicron, some students felt more options for remote learning should be available while others felt the university was doing the best it could.

Amaya Cummins and Dillan McElveen are trying to make the best of their first year at UC Santa Cruz.

Studying molecular, cell and developmental biology, the couple said the fall quarter atmosphere was much more relaxed. For example, the dining halls were open for indoor seating and there were far less cases of COVID-19. Passing through Quarry Plaza after a lecture Monday morning, they said they’re happy to have some normalcy back with students on campus again. But with the remote start for winter quarter due to Omicron combined with the constantly changing protocols, uncertainty is taking over.

“I love it, but I hate it,” said Cummins.

UCSC and the other eight UC undergraduate campuses returned to mostly in-person instruction, at varying levels, on Monday. Citing high vaccination rates and declining cases of COVID-19, Chancellor Cynthia Larive and Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Lori Kletzer said in a campus message that the majority of UCSC courses will be in-person. However, depending on the course, some instructors may continue to teach remotely because of COVID-related circumstances.

“We know that new cases will continue to occur as we transition to the endemic stage of COVID,” they wrote in the message. “Some in our community continue to recover from illness or may need to isolate or quarantine in the coming weeks and months because of infection or exposure…We aim to be flexible in all of these instances.”

Like Cummins, students across the UC system are torn about online vs. in-person instruction as COVID-19 related circumstances with health, family members, job and housing instability complicate the constant changes. At UC Santa Barbara, a survey of about 5,000 students showed that they’re almost evenly split between those who prefer online vs. in-person classes, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Meanwhile, at UC Irvine, most students polled in a January survey including 2,500 students wanted a mixture of online and in-person classes, while 20% wanted all in-person and 10% wanted all online. Of the 10 students, Lookout spoke to Monday morning, opinions were also split with most students saying they felt there was no overall better option.

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Ella Califano, a first year student studying biology, said she wasn’t expecting in-person classes to start again. Because of the changes in the return to in-person instruction start date, she said had to reschedule her flight three times from her hometown in Southern California before coming back to Santa Cruz Sunday.

She was happy coming out of her first-ever in-person lecture on campus and being back with her friends.

“I’m more looking forward to the social aspects rather than the classes,” she said.

Ella Califano is a first-year student studying biology.
Ella Califano is a first-year student studying biology.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

But, she, like other students, was concerned that a return to online instruction could come at any moment.

“I don’t know if we could get an email tomorrow and everything could be switched again,” she said.

Kevin Jiang, a third-year student studying robotics, has felt the strain of the changes exacerbated his ability to find stable and affordable housing. He’s been able to stay on the couch at a friend’s house and is living out of his suitcases.

“I thought the return to campus was a little abrupt,” he said, walking on campus with his friend, Jack Luong. “I don’t think it was a good idea to suddenly change from online courses back to in-person so suddenly. I think it would have been a better idea if we had just stayed online for the rest of the year.”

The changes have been tough on the university’s faculty as well, according to Steve McKay, co-chair of the UC Santa Cruz Faculty Association. He’s also an associate professor of sociology and the director of the UCSC Center for Labor Studies.

“The fatigue and overwork is taking its toll on faculty,” he said. “And it’s not necessarily something that the administration could solve.”

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One of the primary sources of the extra loads of work for faculty, McKay said, are all the adjustments faculty is making and the instruction options faculty is providing so that students can continue to receive instruction.

“This is a much broader issue with COVID,” he said. “So, we’ll just hunker down and keep grinding.”

The university’s COVID-19 dashboard was reporting a seven-day positivity rate of 2.2% Monday evening for tests done on site for students and employees. The county’s seven-day positivity rate is 12%.

With Omicron still very much on their mind as they sat in a lecture hall with more than 200 other students Monday morning, Cummins and McElveen, while feeling concerned about the potential for spread there, were still thankful to be learning in person.

“We just came from our math lecture that was in person for the first time ever, this entire quarter, and I felt like I actually learned something,” said Cummins. “Learning in there, sitting in there, in that environment is way better for actually learning.”