UNC student starts petition to cancel in-person classes

Now-retracted ICE policy on foreign students helps spur student advocacy

For weeks, faculty, staff, and students in the University of North Carolina System have been petitioning for a transition to remote-only instruction.

On June 12, graduate workers and professional students at UNC published a response to UNC’s Roadmap for Fall 2020. Last week, more than 30 professors, teaching assistants, and graduate students started a petition asking for remote learning to be the default mode of instruction, more transparency, and a commitment to protect the health of the campus community. The petition now has over 2,700 signatures.

Now, two days after ICE rescinded a policy that would have stripped international students of their visas if their courseload was entirely online, students say there is no excuse for the university to continue with an in-person reopening plan.

ICE’s policy met with outrage from UNC students, and in the face of what many saw as a lackluster response from the university, students worked together and took action to help their international peers. Less than 12 hours after ICE announced its new policy, Ruth Samuel and Marcella Pansini, both seniors at UNC-Chapel Hill, collaborated to create a Google Sheet of all the in-person and hybrid classes UNC is offering this fall as a resource for international students.

24 hours after ICE’s announcement, Ankush Vij, a senior studying computer science and entrepreneurship, created a website that filters through the live data from the spreadsheet and allows students to check classes based on major.

UNC’s response to the policy was as opaque and haphazard as its reopening plan, which inhibited “students from making decisions in a timely manner,” said Vij.

When asked about his reaction to the rescission of the policy, Vij told Policy Watch that it had paved the way for creation of a petition to cancel all in-person classes at UNC for the fall semester, which he published today on Change.org.

Within hours, the petition already had over 150 signatures.

Vij’s petition lists multiple concerns from the Carolina community, such as the statistic that 30 percent of students still plan to attend parties and other large gatherings and that many members of fraternities have stated that they will not be following social distancing guidelines. (Nearly 20 percent of the undergraduate population takes part in Greek life, according to UNC’s admissions website.)

The petition also mentions UNC Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Bob Blouin’s statement at a Carrboro Town Council meeting on Tuesday that there were 164 beds set aside for isolating students that tested positive for COVID-19 and for those quarantining, which the petition and Indy Week reporter Sara Pequeño said “feels like an underestimate.”

Vij writes in the petition:

With currently 37 UNC athletes, coaches, and athletics’ staff members testing positive for COVID-19 as of July 13, the devastating impact on the Chapel Hill community, both on- and off-campus, is inevitable as more than 8000 residential students plan to return to campus in a few weeks. Allowing an influx of young people within the age group has been shown to be the driving force behind COVID-19 clusters of outbreaks before [and] is irresponsible and contradictory to a claim of wanting to protect the Chapel Hill community.”

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