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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

Spring semester begins with some added COVID precautions at UWM and Marquette

Emily Files
Face coverings continue to be required on UWM's campus. UWM and Marquette are providing some N95 masks for students and staff.

Milwaukee’s two biggest universities started spring semester Monday with some additional COVID-19 precautions.

Over the winter break, both UWM and Marquette saw their highest COVID case numbers of the school year.

In response, Marquette delayed classes by a week and is requiring students get booster shots.

UWM gave instructors the option to shift in-person classes online for one week. Most instructors took them up on the offer — with 62% of in-person classes making the shift.

Most of freshman drawing and painting major William Delgado's classes were moved online. As a commuter student taking the bus from West Allis, he doesn’t mind.

"I’m OK with that," Delgado says. "I get to, like, chill and like not worry about commuting so early. I can do my online classes in the morning."

Another student, graphic design major Lee Pederson, didn’t have any classes move online.

"My schedule is all in-person except my one class that’s normally online," Pederson says. "And I kind of like it that way. I’m not really the best at paying attention to online classes."

UWM was predominately online last school year. This school year was supposed to be different — with most classes returning in-person.

"It was a good experience to be back in the classroom," says Spanish and Portuguese professor Nancy Bird-Soto. "I think we all like that spontaneity that we get in-person."

But Bird-Soto’s hopes for an in-person spring semester dwindled as the omicron variant drove COVID cases to the highest levels yet in Wisconsin. When she heard that UWM would let instructors teach online for the first week, she took advantage of the offer and she’s wondering if one week is long enough.

"I think that just one week is kind of like very way too optimistic," Bird-Soto says. "It’s not an easy situation either, especially when we’re all used to being back on campus."

At Marquette University, in-person classes are proceeding as planned, but not on the original schedule. The school postponed its Jan. 18 start date to Jan. 24.

Freshman digital media major Connor Baldwin was home in New Hampshire when he heard the news. "My first initial reaction was, I was excited to have the opportunity to spend a little more time at home," Baldwin says.

Baldwin interviewed other students about their reaction to the decision for a Marquette Wire article.

"There were other friends of mine or people I talked to and they felt it was the responsible decision because they had been looking at cases in their own home state and across the nation and they felt that maybe going back especially in the middle of a surge wasn’t the best idea," Baldwin says.

With cases increasing so much over the past month, it’s likely many students returning to campuses had COVID over the winter break. That’s the case for both Baldwin at Marquette and UWM student Lee Pederson.

"We’re just not incredibly worried because a lot of us have actually already gotten COVID so we’ve been through it and we know what to expect," Pederson says. "But it’s also, we’re just kind of unsure because COVID keeps changing and evolving. So we’d like it to go back to normal but we know it’s probably not going to happen for a while."

UWM administrators say classes that shifted online this week will be back in-person next week. But Pederson and others wonder how “normal” this semester will really be.

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Emily has been reporting on Milwaukee-area education for WUWM since 2018.
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