On The First Day Of School On A Quiet UT Campus, Students Find Outdoor Space To Take Class Together

Aug 26, 2020

Four students sat at the corners of a picnic table on the UT Austin campus Wednesday, looking down at their open laptops, masks on their faces and backpacks open at their feet.

"We're all in a class together, so we decided to meet up and go through the videos together and just have each other for help if we have questions," sophomore Phoebe Fertig said.

Fertig and her classmates are speech-language pathology majors. The sophomores had less than a year at UT to make friends, since they were sent home early last semester. They said they didn’t want to lose out on the social aspect of college – hence, the outdoor study session.

But students socializing is the big concern for UT as the school year starts. Universities around the country, including Texas A&M, saw spikes in COVID-19 cases when students returned to campus. UT’s own COVID-19 Modeling Consortium estimated between 82 and 183 students could show up to the Austin campus this week already infected with the virus.

Right now, the campus is open, but more than 75% of seats in classes are online. Only 5% are completely in person, while the remaining are a hybrid. There are rules that limit the number of students who can enter dining halls, libraries and classrooms; and masks and social distancing is required.

But many students live off campus, where UT can’t enforce rules.

Michael Miller, another member of the study group, said he knows other students have had parties or gone to large gatherings without masks since they returned to campus.

“Well, personally, I am in Greek life right now and I am disappointed at some of the other fraternities’ actions and how they choose to avoid social distancing rules,” he said.

Miller, who is living off campus this year, said he and his friends have seen each other only when they can go on bike rides or sit outside, 6 feet apart.

Down the street, sophomore Kameron Tanner was walking to the only in-person class he has this semester. He said he's getting used to the empty campus and lack of activity.

Like many students, he said he is bummed he will miss out on certain college experiences this year because of COVID-19.

“I’m definitely sad about football for sure,” Tanner said. “I was actually supposed to try out for the team this semester, but because of COVID they had to postpone all tryouts.”

Even though that’s disappointing, he said he’s OK with the rules because he doesn’t want to get people sick. The fact that other students are having parties and hanging out in groups without masks seems reckless to him.

“Even though they’re not the ones that are at high risk [of] getting infected, it’s still a lot of people in this area that could be infected,” Tanner said. “I just think it’s kind of selfish of those people to do those things.”

Got a tip? Email Claire McInerny at claire@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @ClaireMcInerny.

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