Jessica Yang/Production Assistant
Housing is still a problem for many as in-person classes are set to commence
Prior to the 2021 winter break, students began to search for housing for the 2022 school year when McMaster University announced plans for a near full return to campus. This meant upper-years were looking to sublet rooms for the winter semester and first-years were looking to sign year-long contracts.
Now, with in-person classes beginning for all students on Feb. 7, some students still find themselves in the process of house hunting.
Mario Panza, a fourth-year student who struggled to find housing before the break, gave an update on his search for housing this semester. With more listings, availability has gone up, but Panza stated that landlords have taken to increasing prices during this season of demand.
“I was seeing 700 [dollar] minimums,” said Panza.
Fortunately, upper-year students now have McMaster residences as another option this year. Holly Gibson, manager of marketing and communications at housing and conference services, said residence is currently accepting applications from all years.
“This is not a typical year, so we had the opportunity to open up space for all levels,” said Gibson.
Gibson also mentioned that a great way for students to get in touch with the residence team to ask questions is through their Instagram.
Residence buildings reopen as of Jan. 14 and winter residence applications continue to be reviewed beginning mid-January.
Zara Khan, a first-year student who was also struggling to find housing before the winter break, said that students were told residences would open a week into the semester due to a rise in the Omicron variant during the holiday season.
Khan also said there were some worries among students about adding additional residents when moving out for the winter break.
“Before we all moved out, there were speculations that more people were moving in . . . There’s kind of that COVID scare. There’s more people on the same floor using the same things,” said Khan.
Since Oct. 18, it has been mandatory for students and staff to be fully vaccinated before entering campus buildings and McMaster residences. With the vaccination booster rollout being accelerated due to an increase in the Omicron variant, anyone over the age of 18 is now eligible to book their booster as of Dec. 20. However, Gibson said there is not yet any requirement for boosters at McMaster.
“Residence is following MacCheck vaccination guidelines that the university has put into place. So, what the university is saying, that's what we're going to follow. There isn't any talk about boosters in residence at this time, but we would encourage people to get the booster shot if they can,” said Gibson.
With residence accepting applications from all years, hopefully, many students will soon be ready to return to campus.
C/O Georgia Kirkos
What the university hopes a near full return to in-person will look like
2022 marks nearly two years of McMaster University students adjusting to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. After the initial school closure in March 2020, the McMaster community has faced recurring uncertainty every semester. Unfortunately, it seems the winter semester of 2022 will be no different.
In October of 2021, McMaster informed students that the university is planning for a near full return to in-person activities in the winter semester after a hybrid fall semester.
“I think as a community, McMaster faculty, staff and absolutely students did a great job. I really do feel like we all held it together. We supported one another. We recognized that things weren't going to be perfect, but we adapted well,” said Dej during a MacDiscussions roundtable hosted by the Silhouette and CFMU in early December.
During MacDiscussions, Sean Van Koughnett, the dean of students, and Denver Della-Vedova, the McMaster Students Union president, also joined Dej in addressing what they anticipate the winter semester would look like.
Speaking about eating areas, Van Koughnett said that though the school is planning to have the majority of food services open, they must also balance considerations of health and safety.
“There are a couple of locations in [the Student Centre] that will be closed because we’re trying to keep congestion to a minimum, if possible. So, for instance, in MUSC, Teriyaki [Experience] and Booster Juice will be closed, [but] Booster Juice in DBAC will be open, so if students want Booster Juice they can go there,” said Van Koughnett.
“There are a couple of locations in [the Student Centre] that will be closed because we’re trying to keep congestion to a minimum, if possible."Sean Van Koughnett, Dean of students
For classes, Dej emphasized that although bringing students back in person is important, the school is also mindful of offering flexibility. This includes a combination of online and in-person components to classes and more options for lectures to be recorded now.
“[W]e have really invested in our learning spaces over the last 20 months. Most of our medium and large lecture halls have Echo 360, which is a capture tool that the MSU has been advocating for many years pre-pandemic and it means that live lectures can be streamed or they can be recorded,” said Dej.
“[W]e have really invested in our learning spaces over the last 20 months. Most of our medium and large lecture halls have Echo 360, which is a capture tool that the MSU has been advocating for many years pre-pandemic and it means that live lectures can be streamed or they can be recorded,”Kim Dej, Associate vice-provost
However, certain in-person components such as labs or tutorials may not offer an online option. If students are to miss those components, they would have to use a McMaster Student Absence Form for accommodations.
Dej also added that she hopes students can make informed decisions about missing in-person lectures since in-person interactions can be uniquely valuable.
With the MSU, Della-Vedova said that the plan is to introduce more in-person returns amongst staff and reevaluate at the end of January to see where things can go for the rest of the semester.
“[A] number of our services will still be provided online, but will likely move more into that hybrid space where folks can access them a few select times a week in person,” said Della-Vedova.
“[A] number of our services will still be provided online, but will likely move more into that hybrid space where folks can access them a few select times a week in person,” said Della-Vedova.Denver Della-Vedova, McMaster students union president
During this episode of MacDiscussions, concerns over the Omicron variant were also brought up.
On Nov. 26, the World Health Organization classified a new variant known as Omicron as a variant of concern for the COVID-19 virus. This was soon followed by cases of the variant identified in Canada only a few days later.
At the time of recording, McMaster had not announced any new changes to their operations as a result of the Omicron variant’s appearance and Van Koughnett said the school will continue to adapt should the government implement any changes.
Unfortunately, soon after, a rapid rise in Omicron variant cases began to occur and on Dec. 14, McMaster announced that the first week of the winter semester will be entirely online. The school stated that this measure was taken to be proactive about safety concerns the new variant may pose.
On Jan. 3, Ontario Premier, Doug Ford, held a press conference to announce that the province will be returning to a modified stage 2 of the reopening plan as of Jan. 5. This includes a decrease in social gathering limits, reduced capacity limits in a variety of settings and the prohibition of indoor dining. Schools are also being moved to remote learning until at least Jan. 17.
On Jan. 3, Ontario Premier, Doug Ford, held a press conference to announce that the province will be returning to a modified stage 2 of the reopening plan as of Jan. 5.
As a result of these new provincial guidelines, on Jan. 5, McMaster announced that the school will be pushing back in-person classes.
Starting Jan. 17, only labs, clinical and other high-priority hands-on activities will be taught in person. Then, on Jan. 31, first-year students will be returning to campus for in-person classes. In-person classes for all other students are scheduled to begin on Feb. 7.
In-person classes for all other students are scheduled to begin on Feb. 7.
Other university operations such as food services will also be adjusted to align with provincial guidelines. Indoor dining will be closed in all eateries, but take-out is still available in certain locations and will be open as of Jan. 17.
What exactly does an in-person experience mean after months of remote education?
In March of 2020, students at McMaster University watched their academics get shifted to a virtual landscape. Now, after almost a year and a half, virtual learning appears to be coming to an end. On Oct. 21, Susan Tighe, Provost and Vice-President (Academic), announced that McMaster is currently planning for an in-person winter semester in 2022.
“As I announced at our Back to Mac town halls in June, McMaster is currently planning to resume in-person classes in the winter term with very limited exceptions. Teams across campus are also planning to ramp up on-campus student life activities so they are closer to, if not meeting, pre-pandemic capacities. This includes services and resources, events and student study and social space,” said Tighe.
On Nov. 18, Tighe will complete a State of the Academy address, a virtual event where students will have the opportunity to learn about the current state of McMaster University regarding academics and other matters.
Talking about how the decision of an in-person winter semester came to be, Tighe shared that the process had begun in February of 2021. Moreover, she explained how, as January neared, the McMaster community was on its way to be fully vaccinated.
“We were fairly confident that by the winter semester we’d be able to have vaccinations in place. We were recognizing they were on the rise and that we’d be able to return to an in-person [semester]. I really want to reinforce it was a collaboration with many people across campus and external to the institution to really help us with the planning,” said Tighe.
Tighe further explained that the mandates that McMaster had put in place were crucial to getting back to an in-person climate. This included the mandated use of MacCheck by students, faculty and staff. This digital tool enabled the McMaster community to log the presence or absence of COVID-19 symptoms in addition to their vaccination status. As of now, most areas on campus require clearance via MacCheck’s COVID-19 symptoms questionnaire.
“Health and safety have been the priority from the beginning. So I think that, what was a real differentiator for McMaster, we didn’t want to bring people back on campus if we weren’t confident that our structures and procedures and policies really promoted a very safe environment,” said Tighe.
While speaking about the way in which planning for an in-person winter semester panned out, Tighe explained how she heard from many students that they’d missed campus and in-person social interactions.
Although returning back to in-person classes may have its benefits, it can also pose barriers for students, especially international students who are currently not in Canada. Acknowledging how hard it’s been for these students to adjust, Tighe explained how the university is trying to support international students amidst the announcement.
“In order for us to get in front of this, the International Student Services and School of Graduate Studies have been working individually with our international students to assess when they are coming to Canada, how they plan to arrive and if they need to quarantine . . . So what we’ve actually encouraged, and suggested, is that all of our international undergraduate students are required to sign up for the iCent, to make sure they have the proper information to support them for their unique circumstances,” explained Tighe.
She explained further the ways in which McMaster has prepared to accommodate these students with services such as the vaccine clinic and quarantine spaces within residences. She also emphasized that McMaster ISS personalized support for immigration so that students can settle in better.
If a student is truly unable to come to campus, Tighe explained that professors are encouraged to use programs like Echo360 for lectures and to allow for virtual completion of courses. Moreover, she urged students that are facing barriers relating to the in-person switch for Winter 2022 to contact their academic advisors to get the support they need.
Jane Lee, a fifth-year commerce student and the Social Media Coordinator for the Silhouette, spoke about her own experiences with this transition. Lee currently has almost entirely remote courses, with one in-person lecture for one of them. She explained that when school does become in-person, it will take her over 40 minutes to commute to school. Lee was quick to admit that for her such a transition isn’t that much of a hassle, but for her peers, it could really be stressful.
“I really don’t know how [international students] are going to prepare on such short-term notice. Especially because I have a friend even down in Toronto, which is not even a whole country away and she is scrambling to try and find a house for winter term. You see the housing groups. There are so many posts with people . . . It’s not a good market to be in right now,” said Lee.
As a fifth-year student, Lee’s classes aren’t as frequent so she only has to go on campus once a week for three hours with 30-40 students. Lee explained that she was pretty shocked at how few regulations, including the use of MacCheck, were thoroughly enforced while she was there.
“Even though I’ve had one in-person class this fall, it’s very interesting to see the different attitudes people have towards safety regulations . . . I go to class and there’ll be people [with their] mask on with their nose sticking out or people eating food in class,” explained Lee.
No matter what safety regulation McMaster implements, it is the responsibility of students to follow guidelines thoroughly.
As McMaster begins to prepare for an almost entirely in-person winter 2022 semester, the community is adjusting as well. Not all students may be able to return to campus with ease, but campus support services are available for those who require assistance.
By adhering to all necessary health and safety precautions, the university is hopeful that the community will do their part to return student activities to pre-pandemic capacities.