Jennifer Gauvreau says that for the sake of her family, friends and the community at large, not crossing the International Bridge to attend Lake Superior State University for the fall semester is the ethical thing to do.
The small university in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. returns to face-to-face, in-class instruction for the fall semester Aug. 10, leaving Canadian students like Gauvreau with a heavy decision to make during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Lake Superior State University has informed students that roughly 80 per cent of course content will be delivered via face-to-face instruction this semester.
“I’m stuck with the choice of going or not going, and for me, the ethical choice is to not go,” she said.
Gauvreau, an education major currently studying language arts with a focus on elementary teaching, is preparing to fire off a letter to members of parliament, school officials and politicians in Michigan this week, in an effort to make a case for Canadian students who feel they can’t risk physically attending classes in the United States.
Gauvreau says that while many of her Canadian classmates at Lake Superior State University have already opted to resume their studies in Canada, her education is so specialized that finding a similar program in Canada is nearly impossible.
“I can’t go back. If I don’t win this fight - this push to go online - I have to defer for a year,” said Gauvreau. “Technically, I have to defer for a semester, but because my courses are sequential, deferring by a semester essentially means deferring for a year.”
“And for me, that’s a heartbreaking decision, because I don’t live alone. I can’t quarantine, so I can’t keep my loved ones safe if I go to America every single day.”
When the university suspended all face-to-face instruction March 16, Gauvreau says the transition to online learning for the summer semester was seamless, and provided a safe alternative to studying on campus.
“We had zero days off between going face-to-face to switching to online, so those mechanisms are already in place,” she told SooToday. “And the choice by the administration to push for face-to-face learning when we have a much safer option, to me, is just not within the realm of possibility for me and my family.”
“It causes the student population to really choose between the safety of themselves and their loved ones and continuing their education, and that is a really huge decision with far-reaching implications that I don’t believe all students are really prepared to make for themselves, or their loved ones.”
The university has outlined a number of precautions that it’s taking for the fall semester - including physically relocating classes, installing plexiglass shields in some locations, and signage reiterating its policies surrounding COVID-19 health measures.
But Gauvreau says that face-to-face instruction remains a hazardous prospect, especially when many returning students in her cohort will be coming to Sault Michigan from across the United States.
“I have friends from Florida, I have friends from Chicago - I have friends from all over America who plan on returning to the U.P. (Upper Peninsula) in the next few weeks, and we can’t be sure that they are all safe,” she said. “There’s just no way.”
“And just to rely on policy, I think it’s foolish - and because there’s an alternative that’s proven to work last semester, it just seems beyond foolish to push for face-to-face. I don’t feel that the value in face-to-face instruction outweighs the risk whatsoever.”
Canadians who do not have signs and symptoms of COVID-19 are permitted to cross the border into the United States for non-discretionary purposes such as work and school, but mandatory quarantine measures may still apply upon re-entry.