The notorious COVID-19 lockdown that began March 2020 felt like a fever dream. Everything stopped and the entire country was in a state of utmost uncertainty — no more in-person classes until the foreseeable future, no updates on the mysterious disease, and no stepping out of homes unless absolutely necessary. The question in the air then was: what now? How could we continue living our day-to-day lives without human contact? The answer lied in technology.
In a span of three years, a society that depended largely on physical interaction quickly adjusted to a digitalized version. Technology became a permanent fixture in our lives as soon as academic institutions and jobs figured out how to utilize it. Schools began transitioning to remote learning and soon, Zoom became a household name. As a high school junior during this time, it was a struggle to adapt to this (then) unfamiliar format of learning.
The novelty of school had always meant learning from just a seat away with highlighted annotations on printed paper and face-to-face interactions with my peers and teachers. This way of learning has always been my preference. However, regardless of my comfort level, hybrid learning has ensured the health of myself and others by allowing distant communication without enforcing contact amidst a disease that spreads through such in-person contact. The thought of hybrid options ending is absurd — especially when one considers how inclusive, safe, and flexible this format is in an ongoing pandemic.
Last year, UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) began its inconsistent relationship with mask mandates. The student and faculty population received an email that called for the end of the mask mandate after a decrease in COVID-19 infections, and almost two months later received another email that “strongly encouraged” masking in indoor spaces.
The irony of this would be laughable if it wasn’t concerning. The only bright side to this discordant response was the presence of hybrid options. For instance, if students were sick, they could have attended class from the comfort and safety of their room. If students appeared sickly and coughed in lecture halls with no masks on (our fellow Gauchos are so considerate), others could still attend class without risking themselves to sickness. Hybrid options provide a safe avenue for students regardless of the situation.
Eliminating hybrid options poses a serious health risk for everybody, but especially for immunocompromised people, those living with immunocompromised people, and the disabled community. Contrary to popular belief, propagated by UCSB lifting the mask mandate, the pandemic is not over. If hybrid options are permanently removed, how will disabled people continue their education without risking their health? Asking them to navigate a world that forces them to attend in-person classes and events when accommodation could have been possible is inhumane.
We saw what the world was capable of — the automatic worldwide transition to remote options in order for non-disabled people to uphold daily routines comes to mind. It shouldn’t be a question of whether hybrid options should be kept or not. The answer should already be yes. Rather, the question should lie in what many of us, as non-disabled people, can do to improve these accommodations and make them far more accessible.
There is a desire to return back to “normal”. But, if this “normal” entails forgetting an important population and denying their participation in our society, maybe we should create a new normal in our campus where everyone will feel safe participating. Hybrid options for classes have made it feasible for students and teachers alike to continue receiving their education without jeopardizing their well-being. It’s as simple as finding the nearest electronic device, logging on, and participating regardless of distance. We have been doing it for two years already, why stop now? It’s not only a matter of convenience but a matter of safety. Let’s continue to ensure our community’s well-being.