With last semester’s boil order and tornado and this semester’s COVID-19 surge shutting down the first week of classes, it has been a stressful time for students. It’s important for students to get clear, concise information in a timely manner in order to stay safe. However, SIUE’s communication has been slow and confusing, leading students to try to interpret instructions amongst themselves.
When it was announced that classes would be meeting virtually, students were told that their instructors would reach out to them about how their classes would be held during the first week. Some students have not heard from their instructors with less than 24 hours until their scheduled class at the time of writing.
Due to the temporary move to virtual classes, students have countless questions, such as whether they should still take their scheduled COVID-19 tests. While the Jan. 7 Q&A did help with some of these questions, there hasn’t been a sufficient attempt to get those answers to the rest of the student body. These answers shouldn’t be left on a Q&A that students either had to attend on the last Friday of their break or seek out the Zoom recording. Approximately 500 people attended, but SIUE has more than 13,000 students alone.
Students also have just as much of a responsibility to check their emails and make sure they have the most up to date information and are following COVID-19 guidelines.
Earlier in the year, a boil order from routine maintenance ended up lasting for 5 days and students got barely an hour’s notice through the student email list. Previously, a summer boil order for just the Art and Design buildings had a notice three days in advance. It should be expected that such a notice be given in the thick of the fall semester, especially since it impacted the entire Edwardsville campus. Only two residence halls allow students to have a stove to boil water and a larger supply than just coolers was needed. Clearer communication about what water can be used for during a boil order is also needed because the emails did not mention that students should boil water before brushing their teeth.
During the tornadoes in December and subsequent power-outage, students living on campus were told to do what made them feel safest. While that is generally good advice, during an emergency stress is high and some students want more guidance from the desk attendant or resident assistant on duty. Cougar Village also has the added disadvantage of most, if not all, apartments being above ground level. Students had the options of either avoiding the windows in their apartments or going to the commons building.
SIUE needs to step up its planning for emergencies and natural disasters. We understand that unexpected things happen, but clear communication and specific instructions goes a long way toward minimizing the impact. Emergency plans also need to be looked at in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic to determine what the safest option is since sheltering as a group, for example, could lead to people being exposed to COVID-19.
Overall, SIUE needs more concise communication and if information needs to be clarified in a Zoom webinar, the information covered during it should be emailed to students as well. For example, students who didn’t go to the webinar aren’t going to know what masks are recommended by campus health officials or that 16,000 level 3 surgical masks are being ordered for the campus.