McGill should communicate quickly but carefully about COVID-19

Over the course of the last week, the McGill community has been informed through a series of emails from the administration about how the university is addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 13, the Quebec government announced that all schools in the province would be closing for two weeks. Following this announcement, McGill cancelled classes on March 13 to evaluate its plan of action. At the time of press, McGill has cancelled all classes, exams, assignments, and forms of assessments, with the exception of thesis defenses, until March 30th. Given the rapid evolution of the coronavirus pandemic, the administration has made reasonable efforts to communicate their decisions as the situation develops. During this time, however, many students and staff still face confusion and uncertainty about what the coming weeks and months will look like. 

On March 16, McGill made a facebook post specifying that there will be no in-person final examinations, explaining that an alternative assessment plan will be specified before the end of March. Additionally, the administration sent out a more substantial email outlining the services, activities, and areas which will be operable over the next two weeks and those which will not. Even so, students remain anxious about how graduation ceremonies will proceed, as well as whether graduate programs and summer semesters set to start on May 1 will continue as scheduled. The McGill administration should continue information clarifying the steps that they plan to take to address the consequences of the virus, though their communication thus far has been laudable given the circumstances of the situation. McGill students should take seriously the university and Provincial Government’s recommendations regarding social distancing and hygiene, in order to slow down the spread of the virus. 

Updates about McGill’s response to COVID-19 have been communicated on Facebook, YouTube, and by email. While the administration has aimed to make this information accessible, students have complained about a lack of uniformity and inaccessibility in messaging. While email is a more direct and appropriate method of communication, emails from McGill regarding COVID-19 have often been  delayed compared to the administration’s social media announcements. In the comments of the March 14 Facebook update video, students complained about a lack of captioning and also urged the administration to be more proactive in communicating with professors regarding class and assignment cancellations.

Closing campus, while necessary, can pose various accessibility barriers for students. For example, some students cannot afford WiFi in their apartments and, with libraries being closed, lack a feasible space to do class work. Given this, even after the two week period, professors should be understanding with students who were unable to stay up to date with assignments during the cancellation period. Professors should also be accommodating because this is an especially stressful time for students who may be encountering difficulty in trying to communicate with their families in other parts of the world. Students may be as afraid for their friends’ and family’s health as their own. 

On March 14, McGill asked all students abroad to return. Effective communication from McGill to students on exchange is crucial for ensuring that these students can travel safely and have clear instruction on their prospective return to Canada and the university. Moreover, McGill must clarify for all students, both abroad and in Montreal, how and if they will be able to finish their academic terms if their term is shortened, and if students will be able to graduate on time.

With respect to how students should react to the pandemic, it is important to practice both self-awareness and empathy at this time. Even if students are not concerned for their own health, they should be mindful of the health of others and practice social distancing. While young people are generally less likely to suffer or die from COVID-19 as the elderly, they can still transmit the illness to more vulnerable members of the population. Students have a responsibility to aid public health, and the most effective way to slow the spread of illness is by avoiding gatherings and washing their hands frequently. Students should also try to be mindful of their own health, both physical and mental. Writing out thoughts and feelings, calling friends and finding new hobbies are some ways that students might manage their mental health while social distancing. Finally, students should strive to avoid doing things like panic buying, allowing everyone to acquire groceries and supplies with equity. 

The coronavirus pandemic has incited stressful changes for everyone, including students, staff and administration. The McGill Tribune commends the administration for making concerted efforts to address the situation as swiftly as possible and urges thorough, clear, and accessible communication going forward. We also urge all readers to be patient and empathetic with one another as we navigate this situation; whether that means being considerate of those who are immunocompromised by practicing social distancing or simply being patient with roommates while sharing close quarters.

If you think you may have contracted COVID-19 or need further information, please contact the Quebec Ministry of Health and Social Services at  +1 (877) 644-4545 or visit their website.

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