With the beginning of a new year, Texas A&M University-San Antonio’s social media team published a string of posts welcoming the return to in-person instruction this spring.
“Comment down below what you are most looking forward to this new semester,” one caption read with a photo of a student working in the campus library.
These posts were initially met with some enthusiasm, but as the spring semester approached and COVID-19 cases spiked locally, more students began to voice their discontent with this positive messaging.
Cyrena De Leon, a psychology senior, was one of the first students to express her uneasiness.
“(I’m) concerned about the lack of communication regarding the surge of COVID cases,” she commented on Instagram Jan. 4.
“Why are we putting our campus at risk? We need options.”
Due to factors like holiday travel and the dominant and highly transmittable Omicron variant, San Antonio has seen a significant spike in cases since the beginning of the year.
Every other major local college has announced plans to begin the spring semester online.
In a final update before the semester, A&M-San Antonio reiterated its initial plans to “adhere to state and System guidance,” promising to provide students with rapid tests and N95 masks to slow the spread of the virus on campus.
This update only escalated online outrage from students and faculty.
Within hours, the announcement received nearly 200 comments across social media platforms.
Eddie De Leon, a computer science junior who expressed concern online, says he’s feeling “pushed to go back” to his in-person classes.
“Everybody has somebody that they care for who maybe doesn’t have access to a vaccine or is immunocompromised,” De Leon said in an interview Jan 8.
“For us to go back and act as if there isn’t something going on… it doesn’t make me feel safe – it doesn’t make people I know feel safe or their families feel safe.”
Madison Cardenas, an English senior, reached out to The Mesquite about her concerns with the upcoming semester.
Cardenas said the university’s recent issues with housing, budgeting and COVID-19 are the fault of administration.
“I think if (the university) is having so many things going wrong in such a quick succession, something is wrong,” Cardenas said. “I don’t at all blame the staff… That has to be at the administration level.”
Cardenas said she wants students to remember their concerns matter and should be voiced.
“We pay tuition and we go and we support this campus and everybody with it,” Cardenas said. “I think we deserve to have these opinions be heard.”
Some faculty members have also expressed apprehension over the return to campus.
Representing more than 30 instructors on campus, A&M-San Antonio’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) released a series of tweets criticizing the university’s decision during the first week of January.
According to Scott Gage, associate professor of English and director of A&M-San Antonio’s AAUP chapter, the university has shown a lack of “care and concern” for faculty, staff and students compared with other local colleges.
“There seems to be a narrative that the pandemic is over,” Gage said in an interview Jan. 7.
Gage says the university’s recent messaging around COVID-19 is “predicated on a narrative of hope that just doesn’t match up on the current reality.”
Administrators and spokespeople have largely remained mum when contacted by The Mesquite.
The office of university President Cynthia Teniente-Matson declined to speak about COVID-19 protocols to The Mesquite Jan. 7, referring a reporter to the Office of Marketing and Communications, which did not return phone calls.
Mark Weichold, the university’s new interim provost, told a reporter the university would be releasing an announcement Jan. 7 that would offer “some guidance about what our expectations are for the spring.”
The university expects “no schedule or modality changes for classes” according to their final update posted to social media channels Jan. 7.