As Temple University students gathered on campus Monday for the first of several move-in days, a caravan of their peers and professors protested the school’s decision to reopen amid concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
Shouting and donning balloons and signs that read “Go Online TU,” about 20 motorists, skateboarders, and bikers took to Broad Street near the campus, saying they wanted to pressure Temple to shift to remote learning.
“We’re trying to show students and parents … that we are committed to the health and safety of students as well as staff, faculty, and the community,” said Larisa Kingston Mann, professor of media studies and production and member of the Rank-and-File Temple Caucus. “It’s really not ethical to have face-to-face classes, and so we’re trying to embolden people to really push Temple to do the responsible thing.”
The rally, co-organized by the Student Coalition for Change and Rank-and-File Temple Caucus, a union of adjuncts and graduate students, came as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reversed course Monday, shifting all undergraduate instruction to remote learning after a number of COVID-19 infections the first week of school.
Temple University spokesperson Raymond Betzner said the decision to reopen was based on what the community wanted.
“Many of our students … told us they wanted to have an on-campus component if it could be done safely,” he said. “We’ve also heard from faculty who are eager to get back on campus.”
But protest organizers said Temple did not ask a representative sample of the community.
“It’s really important that Temple recognizes that, while it’s doing a lot of things on campus to protect students, it’s doing very little to protect faculty, and it has not acknowledged the community around us whatsoever,” said senior Teresa Swartley, Student Coalition for Change cofounder.
The nearly 40,000-student campus’ reopening plan includes a comprehensive testing and tracing initiative, according to the university’s June 2 reopening announcement.
The Temple Association of University Professionals issued a statement urging Temple not to reopen, and specifying what is needed to promote a healthy and safe reopening. It asked that professors be allowed to teach online and called for more transparency in the university’s contingency plan when people get sick, as well as support for workers and community members.
During the protest, university students and families filmed the caravan as it passed by, intrigued by the protesters’ shouts.
Jerrad Non, a Temple junior, said he was surprised by the university’s decision to reopen, and worries about off-campus social life that is beyond Temple’s control.
Swartley expressed similar concerns.
“College students are going to have social events off campus; they’re going to be partying, they’re going to be acting irresponsibly,” she said. “I think there will be an outbreak, inevitably, and the community is going to take the brunt of it.”