EDITORIAL: Too close for comfort?

Crowded classrooms are common at many large colleges, and Montclair State University is no exception. Anyone who has tried to take a popular course knows the adrenaline rush that comes with signing up, as well as the quiet desperation of hoping the course won’t fill up before they can enroll. One can easily go on for their entire academic career without having completed a much desired course due to these capacity limitations.

With the largest freshman class ever accepted into the fall semester, classrooms seem fuller than ever. In the age of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, this is not only a frustrating but concerning reality when it comes to in-person learning.

Being stuck in a small classroom with dozens of other students was a source of anxiety or annoyance at worst and an exciting opportunity to socialize at best. But now even fewer people are eager to do so. COVID-19 is, after all, an airborne disease that requires keeping your distance from others, especially in large groups.

A popular class, Introduction to Film, has a capacity limit of 120 students. This is not unusual for a lecture, especially centered on an audio-visual medium. But the room it takes place in, located in Calcia Hall, is a small auditorium, about the size of an average black box theater.

The students are seated shoulder to shoulder, so close that one could easily accidentally nudge someone in the face while taking off their coat. The only relief from social distancing comes from the occasional broken chair.

Masks are obviously important in such a scenario. But with more than 100 people packed in like sardines, it feels like the masks can’t do much. It’s hard to feel comfortable being so close to so many people when the importance of social distancing is etched into our collective psyche.

In an Instagram poll conducted by The Montclarion, 63% of 286 students said that at least one of their classes felt too crowded or unsafe because it was too full.

Safety concerns regarding crowded classrooms seem to disproportionately affect those in older buildings such as Calcia Hall or Dickson Hall, where rooms and offices are small and neglected infrastructure can mean a lack of ventilation, even of base, such as windows. These disparities are apparent when moving between buildings; having a class at the Feliciano School of Business or University Hall might seem like a mocking special privilege if you’re used to Dickson’s windowless boxes.

Students may choose to avoid other potentially crowded spaces, such as dining halls. But without a missive from Hawk Check to stay home due to possible exposure to COVID-19, coming to class is not optional.

Not only is being physically absent from class largely impossible due to the university’s insistence on continuing education in person, but the other precautions put in place to keep students safe seem pointless if they just have to be piled up with each other. After all, it has been proven time and time again that one of the most effective ways to avoid contracting COVID-19 is to stay six feet away from other people.

Classroom clutter is no longer just an inconvenience but a safety issue. Preaching the need for social distancing becomes an act of reckless hypocrisy when students are placed in learning environments that make such precautions impossible.

Holding classes like Introduction to Film in a larger room, for everyone’s comfort and well-being, is just one of the basic adaptations that Montclair State can and should make. These classes are usually longer, which underlines the need to have as much space as possible between people. The more time spent near large groups, the higher the risk of getting sick.

Montclair State can also accommodate its campus population by providing better masks such as medical grade N95, KN95 or KF94 free of charge due to the highly contagious nature of the omicron variant. This would go a long way to reassuring students and employees that they are at least protected in high-density areas of campus, as well as easing some of the financial burdens of constantly having to procure new masks. .

With 109 total COVID-19 cases on campus, Montclair State’s numbers aren’t out of control, but they’re still higher than they were before winter break. The students have been commendably cautious so far, but the fact remains that we could all use a little more space.

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