Returning to Campus: Ashoka’s Infinite Loop
by Prithaa More and Anoushka Singh (UG '24)
On 28th November 2021, the Vice-Chancellor (VC) sent out an email titled “Plans for Campus reopening in January 2022". This email stated that in accordance with the guidelines, students and YIF’s would be brought back to campus from January and classes would be offline to the extent possible.
This email was followed by a more detailed email by the DSA on 6th December, 2021. In it, the DSA elaborated on the timeline for the return of students, UG ’23 and ’24 were to report on either 8th or 9th January, and UG22, ASP22, and late graduates were to report on 12th and 13th January. They were to arrive between 9 am and 9 pm.
The 25 of December brought with it a fairly optimistic email by the VC which was hopeful of a planned return to campus in the Spring Semester. On 28th December, the VC sent an email that highlighted the change in decision regarding plans to return to campus. As the Omicron surge began in India, the university had decided to not bring back students and fellows until mid-February after which they planned to reassess the situation.
How Students Reacted to the Delay
Grieving over the delay in returning to campus yet again, students shared common frustrations. Their mental health had taken a toll and they found themselves right back where they had started. Thus, batches started collating petitions which mentioned that interested students could be allowed to return given that learning online was not conducive and that the arrangements they had made would be a financial burden. When asked whether they were able to relay such concerns to the admin, the Campus Life Ministry (CLM) said that although they knew of a petition by UG ’22, they were not aware of the one which was formed by UG ’24. These petitions seemed to have been sent directly instead of through the CLM.
The Emergence of Exceptions
Only a few days after the email stating that students would not return to campus, certain sections of students got another email. This email said that students enrolled in lab courses, international students and some students on exceptional financial aid who had reached out, would be allowed to come back to campus. The dates on which they were allowed to come back would remain the same. It is to be noted that students who did not leave during the winter break were allowed to stay on campus.
The occurrence of this email was rather sudden for many. We interviewed some lab students who stated that when they had left campus last semester they had been told that labs would be offline. But after the VC’s email stating a delay in returning to campus, lab students had also canceled their tickets. Due to the sudden new information lab students received, they had to rebook their tickets after canceling them a day earlier in some cases, which added to financial constraints. Aditya (name changed), a lab student, recounted how they were facing logistical problems in returning on the specified dates, and upon writing a collective email to the admin they were told that if they could not return on the set dates, they would not be allowed back. In exceptional cases, certain students were allowed to return on dates set for students from senior batches.
While the process of going back was made optional, it didn’t feel like it for most people who had to return to campus because they couldn’t continue their education from their homes due to reasons like finance, connectivity, or personal issues.
When interviewed by The Edict, the CLM said that the student government was not informed before we were all sent the email stating that returning to campus would be delayed and that they were surprised too since enthusiastic preparations were being made for the return. They were of the view that the decisions weren’t taken too hastily since the government must have sent a regulatory notice as Delhi had already gone into Yellow Alert at the point the email was sent. When emailed about this, the Dean of Student Affairs (DSA) said that considering the imminent third wave, the University had deliberated upon the possibility of postponing the Spring Semester. Therefore, the decision to allow a limited number of students on campus could only be made after this discussion had concluded. When asked about the suddenness and rigidity of return dates, the Dean replied -“ Several students had written to us requesting the same dates be retained since they had already made travel arrangements for these slots. Furthermore, these slots would have allowed students to be available in person for their lab courses after completing their mandatory isolation before the semester began (or by the second day of the semester based on their slot). All students who were allowed had been given a voluntary choice regarding their arrival on campus and were expected to make an informed decision based on their context. ”
The Process Returning Students Had to Follow
The process of entering campus included verification of vaccination certificates and RT-PCR tests followed by a 4-6 day isolation period. Multiple students mentioned that the on-campus process has been smooth sailing but some also had a different view.
Ananya (name changed), said - “I entered and they checked my vaccine and RT-PCR reports and they asked some basic questions like food preferences and all. Post that everything has been really smooth. All amenities are easily available to us, I personally didn’t have any problem at all.” Aditya (Name changed), reported that initially there was some lack of clarity about basic things such as lunch hour or the bathroom situation.
What Could Have Been Done Differently
When we asked the returning students what they felt could have been done better in handling the whole situation. The blanket response was that the transmission of information could have been clearer and some additional time to plan the return would have been extremely helpful.
Nandini (name changed) said - “As an international student, it is very hard to obtain Visas and vaccination in my country. I understand that the Admin had a very hectic task on their plate, managing a mass of students but I would have appreciated a little bit more sensitivity on their part. It also took a mental toll writing multiple difficult emails to the Student Government (SG), DSA, and the Vice-Chancellor (VC) communicating my situation and waiting long periods for their response. Most of the time the only response I could get was along the lines of - ‘we will evaluate the situation and let you know soon’.”
Ananya, a financial aid student said - “I hope they would have been clearer and more prompt in their responses. It’s a very hard thing from where I come from to book tickets and arrange travel. I understand that there were complications and things were very hard on their end also but some people like me had absolutely no other option”.
Aditi, a lab student stated - “They could’ve given us two weekends to choose from when to return according to our comfort. Even if the first two classes of the lab were online it wouldn’t have made as much a difference because I did so last semester also. By doing so, it gives students time to think it through, figure out transport, and everything else. If they gave us time to plan our travel thoroughly, all of us would have had an easier time”.
The Current Scenario
Following this, more students were brought back on the 12th, 13th, and 19th February. They were mainly those who “have been corresponding with [the DSA] regarding their challenges while keeping in mind their seniority, gender break-up, etc”. Currently, all these students are on campus on a single-occupancy basis. While on Campus, even after following all protocols, cases had spread amongst students around January 13 when the DSA sent an email to the students alerting them about the fact that the university had identified over a dozen COVID-19 positive individuals and issued a “campus alert”, the details of which she specified in her email to the student body.
The student body has also complained about other on-campus issues like the introduction of 1:30 class slots that have led to back-to-back classes and no time for having lunch in dining halls which pushes them to buy lunch out of their own pockets. Even though the lunch hours have been extended from the earlier 12:30pm - 2:30pm to 12:30pm - 3:30pm, w.e.f. 21st February to 22nd April (which is the last week of classes).
The Road Ahead
The New Year has hopefully brought with it good times, as the student body received an email on the 31st of January, 2022, stating that campus would be reopening after the mid-sem break, in March. On 7th February, the SG sent out updates which they’d received during their meeting with the Vice-Chancellor on 5th February. It said that all students were expected to come back to campus by the mid-sem break unless they have extenuating circumstances which they’ve communicated to the DSA and Dean of Academic Affairs (DAA). Classes are also to be held offline to a large extent since Ashoka does not have the infrastructure to conduct hybrid mode classes for all courses, additionally, mask-wearing will be compulsory at all times.
On 12th February, the DSA sent out a detailed email regarding returning to campus in March. Since the single-occupancy limit had been reached, the VC had requested students to withhold further requests. Students are required to carry a negative RT-PCR report to enter the premises, they are also allowed to bring up to 2 guardians given that they also have test reports. There will be no mandatory isolation, and all rooms will be on a twin sharing basis with all students having to choose their own roommate (cross-batch rooming will still be prohibited). Students will also be allowed to move in and out of campus after the mid-semester break, but restrictions may be imposed if certain situations arise. By 12-13th March all students who are currently off campus are expected to move into their rooms. In the end, the DSA also mentions that while they are keen to return to a physical campus experience, all arrangements depend on further developments in the pandemic and government regulations.
The SG held a closed meeting with the VC on 5th February, 2022 wherein they discussed the campus return process. The minutes of the meeting, sent on 7th February mentioned, among other things, that RH-5 will no longer be a quarantine facility and that the ground floor of the sports block (housing the badminton court) will be used instead on a temporary basis. It also mentioned that the “badminton court will be shifted elsewhere”. The minutes also talked about how by the mid-semester break, the new library building (now AC-04) will be fully functional. Currently, the badminton court has been shifted temporarily to the pool-side basketball court, where half of the basketball court has been split into two badminton courts. The ground floor of the sports block has mostly been converted into a COVID ward with multiple beds lined up, currently without partitions.
As we usher in the end of the second year of the pandemic, we see how it has brought with it, uncertainty. And this uncertainty has taken a toll on the college experience of several. Students and professors alike have been facing zoom fatigue, the new normal does not feel conducive. As we eagerly await returning to campus, we can only hope that we are not stuck in what feels like an infinite loop.