Features, News

Yale-NUS during COVID-19

Story| Avani Adhikari, Editor-in-Chief 

Photo| Darren Ang

As with the rest of the world, Yale-NUS College’s community activities this semester have been shaped by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Since the declaration of DORSCON Orange on Feb. 7, 2020, Yale-NUS has enacted a series of prevention measures that have affected almost every aspect of a student’s residential life.

Most significant among these is the approval of e-learning facilities for students wishing to limit social contact. Enacted since Feb. 14, e-learning gives students the option to continue their courses without face-to-face classes and complete their coursework remotely.

This measure is also open to faculty who may wish to move their classes entirely online.

Students wishing to limit social contact now have three options: 1) e-learning on campus, 2) e-learning off-campus with their housing arrangements still in place, and 3) e-learning off-campus and checking out of housing entirely.

As of Mar. 6, 2020, 39 students have been approved for on-campus e-learning and 17 for off-campus e-learning with housing reserved. 23 students have opted for full e-learning and have checked out of campus entirely.

Student and faculty opinions of these new measures have been mixed, though those willing to speak to The Octant have been generally positive.

Alexandre Debs, a visiting professor from Yale University who has moved all of his classes online, says, “I think that it is inevitable that the e-learning option is just not the same as the regular in-person format. It is harder for me to get a sense of the room, see whether there are some concepts or pieces of material that are confusing and deserve greater discussion, and identify students who want to jump into the conversation.

“Nevertheless, I feel that the classes have gone well, and the overall level of participation has been good. I also imagine that it is helpful for the students to have a recording of the meeting so that they can go back and listen to parts of the conversation after class. In the end, I think that this is a good option and I am grateful to the students and the university for all their work in making the most of the e-learning option.”

Similarly, Michael Sagna ’23, who decided to move back to London, says that his overall experience has been positive. “The toughest thing for me to figure out is the time [difference],” he says.

Regulations around COVID-19 have not only affected student academics but also campus life. 

One of the first student organizations to be affected was the Yale-NUS Student Investment Group (YNSIG) who had their landmark event, the Singapore Asset Management Conference (SAMC), cancelled after the declaration of DORSCON Orange.

“Due to the large number of delegates and the business representatives flying down from Hong Kong, we couldn’t possibly risk hosting the conference. Furthermore, the nature of the event is such that it is impossible to change it to an online format,” says Moni Uzunova ’22, Vice President of External Affairs at YNSIG.

“The cancellation was obviously very unfortunate for everyone because members of the organizing committee put a lot of effort, time and thought into the conference. However, we are working hard to ensure that the effort put into SAMC 2020 is not wasted and the upcoming team successfully manages to build upon it for an even better 2021,” she says.

Most disruptions have been the result of new regulations released by the National University of Singapore on Feb. 20, 2020, asking for all co-curricular activities (CCAs) involving close contact (less than 2 metres apart) to be cancelled regardless of the number of participants.

CCAs have not all been cancelled at Yale-NUS, but have been modified to keep our community safer. According to Dave Stanfield, Dean of Students, the implementation of these regulations are more nuanced at Yale-NUS. “We have to follow the spirit of these regulations, but we also have to account for us being a residential college, which gives us a unique set of circumstances and needs.”

Athletics and dance groups are the most affected by these regulations. The basketball team, for example, has had their official training cut down to just once a week, and the ballroom dancing team has been prevented from bringing its external coach to campus.

Lan Ran ‘23, captain of the basketball team says, “Right now we struck a compromise with athletics where we would have only one official practice with our coach, and we modified our practices to limit contact and focus more on passes than plays.”

Yet, the transition to these new routines has not been easy. “While it is great that the new regulations force us to be more creative in terms of how we run drills, and leads us to learn something new, it sucks that we aren’t training towards anything. Normally we used to have friendly games but because of these regulations, we can’t anymore. It feels like we are losing momentum,” says Megha Joshi ’21.

Despite their disappointment, members of the basketball team were all too aware of the importance of such regulations. “We are sad that we can’t train because it is a stress relief for us and our players, but ultimately we all recognize that it is for our safety,” Joshi adds.

Similar sentiments are echoed by Sean Neo ‘22 of Yale-NUS Ballroom. “We also have tried to limit our contact to one partner and are in the works of modifying our final showcase. A lot of our external competitions got cancelled so we are trying to make it up to the team with our own internal competition and showcase.”

To avoid contact, the school has also put in place business continuity plans, which means that the Arts Office is understaffed on some days, leading to fears that there will not be enough manpower to live stream the final showcase.

Other than student organization activities, the new regulations also affected large student events this semester, such as Tape Days, Class Day, and Graduation.

Under the current policy of limiting events to 50 people, these events cannot take place. However, rather than cancelling them outright, the college has chosen to go ahead with their planning, hoping to make a decision regarding their approval by April 1.

“While we are currently in limbo with regards to whether or not Tape Days will actually happen, we are still going to continue planning as if it is happening, just so we are not blind-sighted. Tape Days means a lot to us and the community, and by continuing to prepare for it, we ensure that whatever happens on April 17, we have an event that is the best possible version of what it can be,” says Nathaniel Mah ‘20, the head of Tape Days’ organizing committee.

“Right now we can only cross our fingers and hope that the COVID situation eases by April,” he says.

Similarly, the Class Day Committee is also continuing their planning despite the uncertainty. “We are hoping that it happens because we have put in a lot of work but, whatever happens, we have to put safety first,” says Fiona Freeman-Grundei, Class of 2020 Representative.

Amid all the anxiety, the Dean of Students Office remains encouraging of student activities. “My mantra this semester has been ‘please don’t cancel your events’ because the last thing we want is a campus that’s completely dead and devoid of any campus life,” says Mr. Stanfield. “We know how the virus spreads and if we are smart about the decisions we make, we can carry on some sense of student life within those guidelines and boundaries.”

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