When Western Kentucky University students return to campus Aug. 24 – the first time many will have done so in five months amid the coronavirus pandemic – they’ll be required to wear face masks in classrooms, practice social distancing in queues at dining venues and follow prescribed walking paths across campus.
These are just a few of the recommendations laid out in an exhaustive draft plan, called “Big Red Restart,” that was assembled this spring by campus reopening committees and accounts for several contingency scenarios. No aspect of the plan is set in stone, campus administrators said.
For Ally Mefford, a senior and Bowling Green native studying advertising at WKU, the prospect of returning to campus for class elicits an uneasy mix of eagerness and apprehension.
“I want to come back, but at the same time I am a little bit apprehensive about it just because I don’t know how well other people have been social distancing and taking this seriously,” she told the Daily News. “It does kind of freak me out a little bit.”
The preliminary restart plan has drawn more than 700 feedback responses on the website from campus stakeholders, with many student respondents expressing a mix of enthusiasm and skepticism about returning for in-person classes.
WKU President Timothy Caboni wrote in a campus message earlier this month that stakeholders should expect the release of a revised plan incorporating that feedback this week.
For Tahir Gagulic, a junior from Bowling Green studying international business and Spanish, the pandemic has thrown his plans to study abroad into chaos.
He expressed a desire to return to some semblance of normalcy.
“It’s an adjustment, but those kinds of steps are necessary to ensure that we’re safe,” he said, adding that getting an education is worth the tradeoff in his view. “If wearing masks and social distancing is what it takes in order to get that education, then I think that those are things we should follow.”
Aaron Pendley, a nursing student finishing out his last semester, said he is fine with returning for in-person instruction “as long as everyone sticks to the proper protocols.”
“I’m OK with going back. It’s my last semester to finish up in December, and a part of my semester is going to be my practicum,” where he’ll be working in a hospital setting, Pendley said.
“I’m definitely excited to go back,” Mefford said. “But also equally if not more anxious just because I don’t know what people have been up to, and a lot of people my age are not caring about it. I’m definitely apprehensive, but it will be nice to have some normalcy.”
– Daily News reporting intern Max Zambrano contributed to this story.