Students walking on campus
The U of O has restated that two doses will remain the standard for full vaccination at this time. Photo: Rame Abdulkader/Fulcrum
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‘I want to go back to campus, but it just seems like a terrible idea,’ says second-year student Haya Sonawala

Returning to campus has proved to be a challenging task for all students at the University of Ottawa in light of shifting rules and regulations, housing shortages, the “Freedom Convoy” and a multitude of other pandemic-related issues. However, returning to campus for students that are immunocompromised and/or have chronic illnesses poses an even more strenuous set of challenges.

Haya Sonawala is one such student. Sonawala, a second-year student in English literature at the U of O, has overcome transverse myelitis, which is an autoimmune condition that causes inflation of both sides of one part of the spinal cord. 

Sonawala has been studying out of Mount Albert, Ontario since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Returning to campus for Sonawala feels both dangerous and impossible.

“Because of going through that [transverse myelitis], I’m caused a lot of stress. My immune system probably isn’t as strong as it was before that. I’ve made a full recovery, which is amazing, but it’s still a really stressful situation to have to fear going back to that when you’ve had it in your history,” said Sonawala.

Sonawala appreciates the initiative taken by the University to require staff, professors, and students to be fully vaccinated in order to enter campus. But she feels as though there are other steps that need to be taken in order for her and other immunocompromised students to feel safe enough to return to campus. 

“Now there’s the problem that you don’t need your third vaccine to be on campus, and I think that’s ridiculous, especially in light of the new variant. People should have the third vaccine — the first two aren’t going to do much against Omicron.”

Sonawala also wishes that students were given more time for planning their courses, which would help her potentially return to campus.

“Right now we have no idea what courses are going to look like next year. So I don’t know if I should be looking for a place. The fact that I was online for my first two years means that I don’t have a lot of friends. So just finding roommates is one thing. And then to be able to find a place early enough to get a lease for a decent price as a whole other thing. I wish that they gave us more time to figure it out,” said Sonawala.

Overall, Sonawala is disappointed by the state of COVID-19 in Ontario. “I want to go back to campus, but it just seems like a terrible idea,” said Sonawala.

Isabelle Loranger is another student at the University of Ottawa with a chronic illness that precludes her from going back to campus.

Loranger suffers from chronic bronchitis with lesions in her lungs, resulting in issues such as asthma. When Loranger gets sick, she remains sick for longer periods of time than most people.

Studying out of Chilliwack, British Columbia, Loranger has not returned to Ottawa since the beginning of the pandemic. 

“I haven’t been able to come back and at this point, I likely won’t be able to. There’s a lot of worry and fear and I think a lot of that is because there’s a big lack of communication and clear communication as to what’s going on,” said Loranger. “We aren’t really sure whether courses are going hybrid or how that will work,” said Loranger.

“As well, there’s not been a lot of communication even with professors — you can ask them about it and they have no idea either, which is of course not helpful. Additionally, there is no real communication on what kind of plans they [the University] have in order to help make sure that everyone stays safe.”

Loranger would like the University to have a clear plan and stick with it. She would also like to see the U of O implement further access to hybrid and online courses. Offering as many courses as possible as hybrid, and offering more seats in online courses, are some measures Loranger thinks would help. 

Despite her persisting concerns, Loranger praised two of the University’s pandemic policies, pass-fail options for courses and mandatory vaccinations. 

“I thought the pass-fail was really good and showed an understanding of the circumstances and how they were changing,” said Loranger. “[And] I think it’s good requiring vaccines for people who are on campus.”

If she were to come back to campus, Loranger would like safety measures for behavior in class and on campus to be better enforced.

“Masking and social distancing, I know people within my age bracket, my friends and things like that, they cut corners a bit sometimes. And within class, we should be able to control that, but the problem is the rest of the time on campus,” said Loranger.

The U of O maintains that two doses will continue to be considered as full vaccination status at this time