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Student response

Student Government Association (SGA) President  Devon Nielsen ’20 and Vice-President Ariel Mota Alves ’20 sent an email to St. Olaf students, faculty and staff on March 13 reassuring members of the community that they will have a place to “live and learn on this campus at this time.”

The email from the executives also encouraged all students to refer to the COVID-19 webpage’s FAQ section for answers to any questions or concerns.

To ensure students remaining on campus maintained adequate access to food and other supplies, SGA established a Food Pantry in the Office of Student Activities (OSA). Community members contributed canned goods, crackers and other food items to OSA for distribution. Alongside food supplies, SGA provided cardboard boxes for packing and toiletry items for students, upon request.  

As the situation around campus grew increasingly unstable, students raised many concerns surrounding future plans and the College’s overall response.

Following a Coronavirus Response Team update on March 5, Lauren Sherman ’22 sent a Google Form to the St. Olaf Extra email alias allowing students to share their questions regarding the coronavirus situation on campus. Part of the form also allowed students to voice concerns surrounding actions taken by the Response Team.

The Team quickly replied to this email, thanking Sherman for her concern while urging community members to pose all questions directly to the Response Team.

“Through the responses to this form already, I have seen the majority of people answering that they do not have a platform to voice their concerns,” Sherman wrote in an email reply to the Response Team a day after the Form was originally created.

The Team’s response and Sherman’s reply quickly inspired a thread of lengthy responses from other students and professors weighing in on the issue. 

Dr. Vivian Choi, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology, highlighted the need for “streamlining broader community concerns in a manner that was more open, transparent and representative.”

Neetij Krishnan ’20 sympathized with the difficulty of coordinating a response to such a complicated issue, and echoed Dr. Choi, writing, “Since St. Olaf is a collaborative community between faculty, students, and staff, it makes sense for management of such a crisis to be accessible to all parties.”

In an email to the Messenger, Sherman said that the form received 116 responses, 111 of which were from students, and generated over 500 questions. She found the Response Team’s reply redirecting students away from the Form to the FAQ page to be passive-aggressive.

“I have received over 50 emails from students thanking me for creating this form, a dozen emails from [professors] saying this platform is much needed, and only one email from the COVID-19 response team saying they do not appreciate the form,” Sherman wrote in her email to the Messenger.

As classes moved online for the remainder of the semester, discussions began among students, on Facebook and via St. Olaf Extra, surrounding Pass/Fail options for semester courses including a petition to make all courses mandatory Pass/Fail during online classes.

Concerns were raised by students recognizing the necessity of a graded system for grade point average calculation and graduate school admission, while other students offered suggestions for alternative ways to grade classes.

The petition has garnered over 650 signatures since its creation on March 25.

SGA Senate met virtually on Tuesday, April 7 for senators to come together and pose questions to Dean of Students Rosalyn Eaton, Vice President of Student Life Hassel Morrison and Associate Director of Student Activities Brandon Cash ’16, who were all in attendance.

Many senators expressed approval of the College’s handling of the situation, noting the difficulty of coordinating a proper response and communicating all necessary information to the student body.

However, two primary areas of concern were raised during the virtual meeting. Student Alumni Liaison Carrie Sayre ’20 and Environmental Senator Isabel Istephanous ’20 both posed questions concerning the College’s plans for a commencement ceremony. Morrison offered several ideas that have been mentioned as possibilities by the College, including a ceremony during homecoming or in December of next year, or a virtual commencement ceremony later this year.

International Student Senator Zhanat Seitkuzhin ’22 raised concern surrounding the College’s treatment of international students on campus. According to Seitkuzhin, the College gave students only two days to leave campus to be able to receive a room and board refund — little time to pack all of a students’ belongings and coordinate travel to a country overseas. 

Moreover, Seitkuzhin expressed that he and other international students’ countries closed their borders before students could leave campus, essentially stranding them in Minnesota. While the College has accommodated all these students, Seitkuzhin said that this situation is difficult for students who wanted to travel home and were not given enough time to plan return arrangements.