By Samara Demray
William Peace University students were beyond ecstatic to be back on campus, or at least that’s how it seemed to many.
But some have questioned the return to campus. Lilly Mills, a student at WPU, started a petition to move to online classes. She posted the petition the week of August 4, when the campus reported two confirmed cases of COVID-19. Since then, there have been a total of four COVID cases on campus, according to the WPU Dashboard.
The Change.org petition that Mills started is called, “Pacers are NOT Prepared.” As neighboring campuses, including NC State University and UNC-Chapel Hill, switched to online classes, the petition gained campus-wide attention and 95 signatures.
“I started it because a bunch of people from Peace were talking to me and seemed concerned but were nervous about having their name on something like that,” Mills said. “It was not something that I just did in a spur of the moment by myself; it was driven by others who want to stay safe and not be the next statistic.”
WPU President Dr. Brian Ralph said he would urge students who have concerns to reach out to the university. Over the summer, he said, university officials spoke individually to all students who expressed concerns about in-person classes.
“We certainly want our students’ voices to be heard,” Ralph said in an email, “I certainly understand the position of those who are against our offering in-person classes. We used the summer for detailed planning and have taken extraordinary steps to make the campus as safe and healthy as possible.”
An Instagram poll asking if students signed the petition showed the campus is very divided when it comes to talking about whether or not we should stay on campus or be sent home, and classes shift to all virtual. Nine students said that they had not signed the petition, and six said that they have signed the petition.
Some of the general themes that the students who said “No” was that they felt as though there is no way to prepare for students to be back on campus because we are in the middle of a pandemic. Some missed playing sports, and some find WPU as their safe haven because school is all that they have.
“I did not sign this petition because I think that this petition is misleading and not accurate whatsoever,” said Tiffany Camperos-Brizuela on the Instagram post. “I think that Peace has done a good job handling COVID and keeping students as safe as they possibly can.”
Many seniors, like Camperos-Brizuela, wanted to experience their senior year on campus.
Lily Kang, a theatre student, was more in the middle with her rationale for not signing the petition.
“It’s scary as a musical theatre major because all of the acting courses had no online option, and it was either come back or go home,” said Kang. “I signed, but I truly believe that we should have been given more options for this academic year.”
The students who did sign the petition felt that COVID is larger than the institution. As a university, WPU should not have opened so soon.
“I signed the petition because even though Peace is doing an amazing job at promoting social distancing, keeping students safe and keeping COVID numbers down, I just don’t feel safe being in a classroom at the moment. I think it would be safer if we were able to do our classes virtually,” said junior Christian Langley.
Others had this same stance, feeling that it was more than just being on campus but finding new ways to learn and adapt to uncertain and uncomfortable circumstances. WPU has taken as many precautions as possible during a pandemic and enforces and encourages students to follow the guidelines to stay on campus.
The WPU COVID website (covid.peace.edu) lists all the essential information, such as how many cases, what steps the university is taking to keep students on campus, CDC guidelines, and the list continues. It’s crucial as a community to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, keep six feet distance, and sanitize as much as possible.
Dr. Ralph credited students with helping to keep the number of COVID-19 cases small.
“We know that things could change at any minute and we need to keep up the hard work of following the health guidelines,” Ralph said in the email. “I also think it is really important for students to know how impressed we are with them – our Pacers have navigated through a very challenging time and we are grateful for their perseverance and hard work!”