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UNLV's Students Return To A New COVID-19 Restricted Campus

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(AP Photo/John Locher)

Freshman Savanna McIntosh, right, moves into a dorm with the help of her mother Dena McIntosh at UNLV, Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020, in Las Vegas. Eighty percent of the classes at the university will be online or remote, while 20 percent will be in person. Enrollment at the university is similar to last year, but about half of the normal level of students will be living the dorms.

UNLV's students and professors returned to campus last Monday to kick off the fall semester. Although the campus is open, it is vastly different from what most Rebels remember.

From masks to constant cleaning, UNLV’s campus, a once-bustling hub filled with students and faculty, is now far quieter than ever before. 

Although a majority of the 30,000 students may not be filling out the campus' grounds, for a freshman like Madelyn, who is living in the dorms and studying hospitality, the move onto campus was better than she could have ever expected.  

"It's been a big change," she said, "I chose this school because it is so big and diverse too. But I was going to come whether or not it was online. So, either way, I'll be happy but if it could be in-person that would be better. But I have really good roommates so it has made it feel like I'm at home and everyone has been super nice"

She said the rule is they can't have more than four people at once in a room at one time. So, instead of large parties, they go back and forth to each other's rooms to socialize. 

However, for someone like Yurian, who got his undergrad degree at UNLV and is back for his masters, the campus is nowhere near what he remembers. 

"I thought things would be back to normal by August where a lot of the students would be back on campus, events would be back on campus, but that's not the case," he said, "I think it's about 80 percent of classes are virtual now on campus and it's a weird feeling. It's not the typical college experience you would want to see again."

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He said it is more like a summer school experience and not the start of fall classes where football would be starting and school kickoff events would be planned.

"It's just a crazy scene now," he said.

UNLV student-athletes are also are adjusting to being back on campus. Allison is a sophomore who is on the Pom Team. She says she wants athletics to come back and has hope that she’ll see her teammates soon.

"Last year, I think it was more exciting overall since there weren't as many restrictions but I totally understand why there are," she said, "I'm just lucky that we're back and we're not completely off campus but I definitely miss the atmosphere that we had last year."

She said her coach has been doing all she can to keep the team separate but virtually together. Allison said the team has had to work out separately, so hopefully, they can come back in the spring.

"I feel like UNLV is doing a really good job at trying to keep all of the student-athletes motivated and we just had a banquet for all of the athletes and it was super motivating, but they haven't cut any scholarships I don't think so far."

She is hopeful the numbers of coronavirus cases will continue to trend down in Nevada and that everyone will be smart about not spreading the disease.   

The group that's probably going to be missing out the most are the seniors. Riota is a journalism major with plans to graduate spring of 2021, and he holds onto the hope that he’ll be able to graduate on campus.

"Maybe some part of it is I'm not facing that reality just yet because I have this hope that by spring 2021 COVID is gone but it's really -- who knows," he said, "Definitely, it is a concern regarding an internship and graduation. I do want to have a physical graduation. It is a concern and I think it's something I need to start thinking about more, to be honest." 

One of the biggest concerns for students is the current tuition. Most students say tuition should be reduced, especially since the majority of their classes are online, and they don’t have access to the resources that are included in their fees.

"I do feel that tuition should be much cheaper considering the circumstances now," Yurian said, "I shouldn't be the standard rate. Prices for the tuition, for classes, books everything should be lower considering what we're living in right now." 

Madelyn said the university only discounted $50 dollars off the prices, but because she has one in-person class she could get out of her housing contract.

"Things like that I think they should be more flexible on," she said.

Riota pointed out that not all students absorb the material through online learning.

"I think it would be a good thing to consider to lower the price, knowing that the education might be a lot different," he said.

Allison has thought about the cost of tuition, but she feels like the price is worth it.

"I feel like the education you get here at UNLV is so unique and all of my teachers are so understanding and accepting," she said, "It is a lot more difficult with everything being online to interact but I feel like UNLV is trying its best to really keep everyone involved and make it more enjoyable."

As classes continue UNLV, and Nevada continues to battle COVID-19, only time can tell when the campus will start to return to normal for these Rebels

Students aren't the only ones facing challenges, faculty are having to come up with a new way to teach. Dave Nourse is a journalism and media studies professor at UNLV. 

He said the university has allowed faculty to decide whether to hold classes in-person, online or some hybrid of both. Nourse said a class he was going to teach in-person became an online class after students expressed concerns.

“It’s been interesting,” he said, “I think that is the word of the year. It has been an interesting experience, I think, both for faculty and students as we try to get used to this new normal that we’re living in.”

Nourse applauded students for not only being flexible but understanding, proactive and innovative in how they're responding to the challenges of going to college during a pandemic.

He admits the online model does have an impact on some classes like his, which are often hands-on courses on how to use software and broadcasting equipment.

“We’re trying to think outside the box on different ways in which you can reach the students and give the students opportunities,” he said.

One good thing about the new learning model is that there is actually the technology needed to pull off this kind of learning, which was not available even five years ago, he said.

Besides having an impact on students' academics, Nourse said there is also an impact on students' campus life. Gone are the packed parking lots, crowded lunch lines and busy student union building.

“There is an element of the collegiate experience that is missing right now,” he said.

Despite that, Nourse notes there is still an excitement among the students because they are engaged with people outside of the ones they've been interacting with for the past six months.

Guests

Dave Nourse, journalism and media studies professor, UNLV

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