Not Quite Normal

Digital Learning
Digital Learning

BCIT is bringing students and faculty back to campus this fall. According to the program delivery page of the BCIT website, 290 of 333 programs are being offered at least partially in person. In a conversation with Associate Dean of the Broadcast & Media Communications Program Kevin Wainwright, he confirmed that means the vast majority of the BCIT’s twelve thousand full-time students will be on campus at some point in the next four months.  

Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases are on the rise in BC, and the new Delta variant looms large. As we have seen over the last two years, long weekends have consistently led to a surge in cases, and this Labour Day long weekend promises to be no different. Due to the incubation period for COVID-19, which ranges from 1-14 days, this means we will likely start to see a rise in cases in BC around mid-September. 

These two realities—the looming new variant and the return to a vibrant school community—culminate in divided opinions from students and faculty about how to navigate safely coming back to campus this fall.  

In mid-August, while researching for this piece, a handful of students were asked how they felt about the return to campus. 

BCIT Student Matt Klein responded, “I want to be back in-class ASAP. I’m not worried about the variant, I’ll wear a mask sometimes if I have to.” 

Another student, Jeremy Shepherd, expressed similar sentiments: “I’m excited to be back on campus this coming fall. I am ready for a sense of normalcy to be restored. If it’s my choice, I will not be wearing a mask …. I also will not argue with a [mask] policy.” Some students clarified they felt safe not masking because they were fully vaccinated. 

One instructor, on the other hand, said she would continue wearing a mask, especially in confined spaces. 

Broadcast and Online Journalism instructor Julia Foy told us she plans to continue wearing her mask and face shield. She reminded us that, “if you’re double vaxxed, you can still get sick.” Foy also emphasized that the “Delta [variant] is a concern for everyone, but especially the unvaccinated.”  

Administrators continue to review a myriad of options for keeping students safe. According to Associate Dean Kevin Wainwright, it’s been difficult to provide concrete policies because “things are changing all the time.” 

Vice President of Students Lisa Collins said per Bonnie Henry’s announcement last May, BCIT had hoped to be moving in to the 4th phase of the return to normal plan in September. Most COVID-19 protocol paraphernalia, such as directional signage and dividers, was removed in June in anticipation of a return to normalcy in the fall. But given the recent uptick of COVID-19 cases due to the Delta variant, Collins confirmed most COVID-19 protocols will be reinstalled and, per provincial health order, all students will be mandated to wear a mask in all indoor spaces. 

At this time, unlike some other post-secondary institutes around the country, BCIT will not be requiring students to provide proof of vaccination unless they live in residence. Students who are sick will be encouraged to stay home, and if sick students come to campus, they may be asked by their instructor to leave. Sick students who are unvaccinated will be required to quarantine, while vaccinated students will not have to do so. Instructors and administrators are working on policies that support students who are forced to miss class. Administrators and faculty are also working to optimize schedules to reduce the number of students on campus and in classrooms at any one time. 

While the prospect of being on campus is exciting, if it is going to last, students, faculty, and administrators will have to work together and remain vigilant.