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Grad students demand changes to reopening policy

Citing concerns about recently announced COVID-19 testing policies and instructions, the Alumni Action Organization formally delivered an open letter condemning plans to reopen the university on January 24. The letter, signed by more than 230 graduate staff members, 200 undergraduates and dozens of community members, urges the university “to give graduate workers the agency to choose, without penalty, whether working in person is a risk they are willing to take.”

The letter reflects general dissatisfaction among graduate students surveyed with the university’s policies on COVID-19 for the spring semester. The letter cites an internal GLO survey of nearly 150 graduate students that found that 90% of respondents support going online throughout their shopping period, while 86% believe the university should provide data regarding positivity rates and 79% want remote control. Work options…without risk of a penalty.” As of 2020, 2,600 graduate students are enrolled at the university. Seventy-six percent of graduate students surveyed support the return of the optional PCR test, which was canceled by the university in favor of express tests At the beginning of the semester.

“The vast majority, supported alumni—and all employees—have the option to work remotely…without fear of repercussions,” said Beckett Warzer GS, GLO host for theater, performing arts, and literary arts. Warzer added that it is currently very difficult for graduate students to obtain remote permission.

The university has defended its plan to reopen in emails to alumni, undergraduates and members of the campus community.

Provost Richard Locke P’18 wrote in an email dated January 19 to the university community.

In addition to the GLO open letter, 34 members of the English Alumni Organization, a group representing graduate students in the Department of English, sent a letter to university management on January 28 to express the university’s “capable, racist, class-based, anti-black response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.” “. The letter has been reviewed by The Herald.

The letter, which cites disproportionate rates of illness and death among minorities and low-income Rhode Island residents, accuses the university of downplaying “Omicron’s risks” and “hiding Brown’s location within Providence and its impact on spread throughout the city and state.”

The letter continues: “Brown suggested that we should plan for disease, which means that spread is inevitable and not the result of his own policies.”

“Regardless of our individual situations, we have recognized that there is no such thing as ‘individual safety’ within a pandemic,” Devon Clifton GS wrote in a statement emailed to The Herald on behalf of EGO. We didn’t want to see anyone get hurt by Brown’s negligence. We also felt it was our duty to speak out or be complicit in Brown’s mishandling of the pandemic.”

The letter includes a list of demands, including the option to work and study remotely, materials to support remote workers and students, regular PCR retesting and return to post positivity rates from the testing program.

The EGO statement also expressed support for the GLO’s open letter and demands.

“In terms of health and safety measures for COVID-19, it is important to make clear that protecting the health and safety of the Brown community and the Providence and Rhode Island communities of which we are a part has been our highest priority since the beginning of the pandemic,” university spokesperson Brian Clark wrote in an email to The Herald. “This continues to be the case as the spring semester begins, with carefully planned public health measures based on the advice of medical experts, as well as flexibility for instructors and students, among the important factors in enabling personalized teaching and learning while preventing serious illness on and near campus.” .

Clarke did not address the EGO message in a statement provided to The Herald.

After some members of the alumni community expressed concerns, Graduate School Dean Andrew Campbell sent an email Jan. 21 to graduate students defending plans to reopen the university, which have been reviewed by The Herald. Campbell emphasized that coaches have the option to “teach their classroom sections remotely in the first week of spring” and emphasized the accuracy of rapid tests as opposed to PCR tests.

Campbell wrote, citing a study from the University of California, San Francisco that reported that rapid antigen tests are very sensitive in determining whether you are currently contagious.

However, many of the graduate students who spoke to The Herald dispute the claims and rationale made by the university. Anders Ohman GS, a graduate student in pathology and a member of the GLO, said the rise in COVID-19 cases is a cause for concern returning to in-person activities. “If I was pressured to be in personal environments – gathering places, high density (places) – I would feel absolutely insecure,” he added.

The GLO’s letter was drawn up at a January 18 public meeting, when members gathered to gauge sentiment about the plans.

“The discussion was pretty open, with a lot of people sharing their thoughts, and it all came together with people who felt that the changes were a step in the wrong direction,” Uhmann said.

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“The initial message that was sent (by the university) was not to provide people, on the one hand, with security, and on the other hand, even clarity about what was happening,” Steward GLO for Comparative Literature, German Studies, Slavic Studies and Italian Studies said Andrés Gonzalez GS.

The university did not respond publicly to either letter. Clifton wrote that GLO’s initial demands for a remote shopping period did not prompt the university to make changes, but the graduate students plan to keep pushing for changes such as re-PCR testing and more flexibility with remote work.

“I think if there’s a risk of being hospitalized on the job, it’s a huge risk,” said Rithika Ramoorthy JS, president of GLO. “None of our members should be exposed to this danger.”

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