Students react with happiness, skepticism to Fall 2021 reopening plans

An image of the building Bovard on campus, showing its red brick entrance

An image of the building Bovard on campus, showing its red brick entrance
Folt also plans on reopening campus facilities later this semester. (Daily Trojan file photo)

Enrique Perez’s initial reaction to the news of USC’s plans to return to in-person classes for the Fall 2021 semester was one of elation, before he was quickly overcome with a sense of skepticism. 

“I was very excited about it because, of course, an in-person experience is better than being online,” Perez said. “However, I’m a bit worried that the University isn’t planning for the worst-case scenario — since that has been the case for the previous two semesters.”

In a communitywide email Friday, President Carol Folt announced that the University is planning for a full return to in-person classes and residential life for the Fall 2021 semester. Folt also announced some preventative measures that will be implemented to prepare for students’ return, including a campuswide vaccination rollout, continued twice-weekly testing for all undergraduate students and physical distancing measures for classrooms and other facilities. 

Perez, a freshman majoring in electrical and computer engineering, has been living in an on-campus dorm this semester after staying at home last semester. As an international student from Mexico, he moved on-campus in order to get paid for his research job this semester. 

Folt also announced that while classes are likely to remain entirely online this spring, the University plans to reopen other facilities throughout the rest of this semester. 

“I really am looking forward to recreational facilities such as the track or basketball court or other facilities to be open so I am able to spend more time outdoors while still feeling safe,” Perez said.

Matt Chen, a freshman majoring in gender and sexuality studies, has spent his entire first year at home doing classes from his childhood bedroom in Westfield, New Jersey, and remains skeptical of Folt’s announcement. 

“My hesitation is that one, it’s February, and return to campus is six months away and so much could happen in that time … and also the fact that this has happened twice before where they said we’re planning to return to campus and then we haven’t,” Chen said. 

However, Chen said he feels “lucky to have three more years” to enjoy USC. Before he moves back to campus, Chen said he’d want the University to take certain health precautions. 

“Ideally, we’ll all be vaccinated … that would make me feel very comfortable returning to campus,” Chen said. “And I do believe that USC … will have or already has the infrastructure in place to conduct wide-scale testing and quarantine if need be.”

However, other students were more optimistic about the prospect of an in-person fall semester after Folt’s announcement. 

“Unlike last fall’s … optimism about returning to campus, I think that just how COVID is going and the vaccine rollout. I think that it’s more likely that we actually will return to campus in comparison to last year’s [announcements]” said Jonathon Lin, a junior majoring in environmental studies. “I was excited to see [the announcement] because I think it will happen.”

Lin says that although he felt more focused at home for the past semester and a half and saw improvements in his academic performance, he looks forward to finding off-campus housing in the Los Angeles area next semester. 

“ I see in the news that every state is really capitalizing off of the vaccines they have and president [Joe Biden] just bought a lot more, so that … all adults can take the vaccine,” Lin said. “So, I think, at the rate it’s going, I think things should be safe by the summer.”

For Cat Birkenfeld, a sophomore majoring in psychology and NGOs and social change, ensuring that the University is actively looking after its neighboring community when in-person life resumes is her top priority. 

“It’s really important to remember to remind ourselves that we’re guests in a home, and that … there’s a significant population of homeless people here,and there’s large populations of Black and brown people, and those are the groups that have been disproportionately affected by the really awful parts of COVID,” Birkenfeld said. “We have to recognize, as a University, that we have a really important social responsibility here, that it’s not just about us as individuals.” 

In her email, Folt gave no exact timeline for the reopening of campus facilities this semester. She also announced plans for a possible hybrid commencement ceremony for both the class of 2021 and class of 2020. According to her email, an update will be given in mid-March. 

“I think that’s a generous offer, and I wouldn’t be able to say how I feel about it because it wasn’t my graduation to miss, but I think it’s very generous that [Folt] offered it, or that the planning includes it,” Lin said. “I hope that seniors will get the graduation they want.”