Art by Autumn Hardwick
Elkins Auditorium holds the reputation of being the location of some of the worst classes on campus. Students hear the horror stories or experience them themselves — whether it was REL 101, HUM 111 or any other General Education class. These horror stories range anywhere from disengaged professors to ruined GPAs.
Prior to COVID-19, having a class in Elkins was an inconvenience or the sign of a hard semester — but now, things are worse. The CDC has spent the past 22 months saying large gatherings of people are dangerous and wearing masks saves lives.
The decision to host classes in Elkins class now marks incompetence and a lack of understanding within the administration. With the return of Elkins classes, students go to class knowing every time they are risking exposure, illness and — if immunocompromised — death.
This past semester, hosting classes in Elkins has continued on like how it did in previous semesters prior to COVID-19. Considering the Omicron variant spreads three times faster than Delta, Pepperdine’s decision to continue hosting high-population Elkins classes shows a lack of regard for COVID-19.
In 1971, William Pereira — an architect native to Chicago — completed the original plans for Seaver College. Elkins Auditorium was part of the original six buildings constructed named after trustee and realty agent George Elkins.
The University has had 911 on-campus cases of Covid-19 with 28 of them being active cases as of Feb. 23.
Pepperdine promises students small class sizes. The Pepperdine website even brags about a 13:1 student to professor ratio.
Yet, in some GE classes, upwards of 250 students sit crowded into a single room, where this environment reduces students with names, majors, interests and personhood to simply another number.
Out of the 18 general education classes Seaver College students must fulfill to graduate, half are typically taken in Elkins. While some offer the option to be taken in smaller settings, there are some GE classes like PSYC 200, HUM 111 and REL 101 that are rarely offered in any classroom outside of Elkins.
This leads to a situation of ignorance and lack of conversation surrounding accessibility and compassion toward Immunocompromised students. The decision to host classes in Elkins is a deliberate choice by the University to ignore the safety of students, professors and their families in favor of providing an in-person classroom experience. It is an attack on the lives of our community.
These classes contain several hundred people crammed closely into an auditorium that does not allow for social distancing or windows that can be opened to allow better ventilation. Additionally, in a smaller classroom setting, professors have the ability to enforce that masks are one, being worn and two, being worn correctly. Elkins classes are so large that professors are unable to verify every student is wearing their mask correctly or even at all.
Simply put: If your class has too many people for you to enforce mask-wearing, your class is too big to be held during a pandemic.
Some Faculty members like History Professor Sharyl Corrado used her teaching assistants to monitor and enforce mask-wearing, but she can only do so much herself before it becomes a hindrance.
“I supported [the TAs] to whatever extent they were able to discreetly enforce masks without interrupting the class,” Corrado wrote in a Jan. 29, email to the Graphic. “But it would have compromised the class if I tried to police it consistently myself.”
While this cooperation between TAs and professors is beneficial, it is not a system that’s foolproof or one that is applicable to every professor
Not all professors have TAs, which leads to some professors being the sole mask monitors for the entire auditorium. However, this is not the professors’ fault. Similarly to students, COVID-19 placed them in an uncomfortable position.
Pepperdine forced professors to carry the heavy burden of enforcing masks. They are trained to teach — not to enforce masks in classrooms comprised of 250+ students.
Pepperdine continually has promised both students and faculty that it will support community members, enforce masks and keep our community safe, but students and professors alike have yet to see this so-called support.
The newly implemented Student Health Ambassadors program — which hires students to enforce mask rules around campus — is the only program that could even be described as support. This controversial program enlists the help of students to monitor if other students are wearing masks only in the most heavily trafficked areas on campus like Firestone Fieldhouse, Payson Library and the Caf.
Elkins classes are one of the few classes that lecture and test-based grade structure was easily adapted to an online setting. So why are these super-spreader settings still being allowed?
Pepperdine can do better. Students, especially immunocompromised students, deserve and need Pepperdine to do better, too. Retire Elkins for the time being, or find an effective way to enforce masks in classrooms.
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Email Hope Lockwood: email@example.com