UCLA's Disabled Student Union Continues Push For Remote Learning Options
If COVID-19 transmission continues to stay low after UCLA students return from spring break on Monday, they'll be able to attend classes mask-free starting April 11 (as long as they're fully vaccinated and boosted). They'll also be able to opt-out of weekly COVID-19 testing.
This is not welcome news to all students, especially those with disabilities. "It's definitely stressful," said Quinn O'Connor, co-founder of the Disabled Student Union (DSU). O'Connor has cerebral palsy, which puts her at higher risk for severe outcomes if she contracts the virus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"But I think when it comes to advocacy on that front, like, DSU is honestly just exhausted," O'Connor said.
Continuing to require masks on campus is one of many pandemic safety protocols the Disabled Student Union has asked for, and then demanded, since UCLA returned to in-person learning last fall. In late January, the group, joined by a coalition of other student groups, staged a sit-in at the campus administrative building to demand remote access to classes for all students.
The sit-in lasted 16 days and ended with a slew of agreements. "It was a very successful sit-in, in my opinion, on DSU's front," O'Connor said. Still, the group's biggest demand, mandating that professors provide remote options for classes, just wasn't going to happen.
"We kind of discovered, especially in these meetings with [the UCLA administration and Academic Senate], that essentially the only thing that will actually mandate remote options, not just at UCLA, but also across the board in higher education, is honestly a lawsuit," O'Connor said.
In the meantime, UCLA is taking steps to make it easier for professors to offer remote access. These include hiring additional students to act as remote learning assistants to help faculty live-stream their classes and improve accessibility for disabled students by, for example, making sure live captioning is turned on.
"Opening up a Zoom room while you lecture, at its most basic, is what we would want," O'Connor said. "Although it's not going to be great quality at all times, I think some accessibility is better than no accessibility."
In a statement, UCLA spokesperson Bill Kisliuk said "both the administration and the Academic Senate endorse instructor flexibility in meeting students' COVID-related and accessibility needs. Livestreaming or recording classes remain powerful tools for addressing student needs."
Kisliuk said the administration and academic senate were forming working groups on instruction and accessibility to assess the future of instruction at UCLA, taking into account lessons learned from the pandemic.
As a theater major, O'Connor recognizes the value of in-person learning. But she hopes that when she and her fellow students are back on campus, they'll keep their UCLA community top-of-mind.
"We need to control what we can control and something like keeping a mask on in a lecture hall filled with 300 people in it, like that could save a community member's life," O'Connor said, "and it's a pretty arguably small sacrifice to make on your end."