Will Fanshawe students catch COVID-19 before catching a break?

Header image for Interrobang article CREDIT: MISS A.
A student reminisces about life before the pandemic.

With the uplifting sounds of Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day,” I watch as the last sparkle of the sun goes away.

Slowly drifting into the shoulda, woulda, couldas of my mind, my thoughts are interrupted, “For the safety of everyone, please be advised masks are mandatory when riding London transit. Thank you and ride safely.”

It’s become ambient noise at this point, having heard or read some variation of this message almost everywhere.

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But not on that day.

That day it served as a stark reminder of our new reality and the uncertainty of it all.

I may sound a tad dramatic but with the opening of schools around the corner amid a global pandemic, I’m worried.

I’m worried that with Fanshawe’s known hands on approach to learning, the quality of education may be insufficient this year. I’m also worried about how the added stress of school will affect those whose COVID-19 bubble comprise of just themselves.

I will credit Fanshawe for their efforts to deliver the most up to date information leading up to the first day of classes. I also acknowledge their efforts to help mitigate the financial stress COVID-19 as had on students. However, I’m still worried.

Since the shutdown, we’ve been in a transitional period in which communication has not been the best on Fanshawe’s part. This is something myself and other students have experienced.

Understandably, we are all trying to figure out this new normal so we should expect some hiccups.

Nevertheless, that is no excuse to ignore the very real concerns of students, especially international students, during these unprecedented times.

I spoke with two international students, Keniesha Nesbitt and Omar Rezk, about their Fanshawe COVID-19 experience.

Both are in their final years of the broadcasting: television and film

production program.

Omar Rezk

Hoping to capitalize off his summer break and gain more hands-on experience in the world of film, Rezk was excited to start a job as a production assistant in Toronto.

With the film industry coming to a standstill like never seen before, he had to let that dream go.

The swiftness of the shutdown raised a lot of questions and concerns for Rezk leading him to reach out almost immediately. But his tenacity was met with silence or incompetence.

Rezk tried to communicate with Fanshawe several times for multiple reasons. He was hoping, just as many others were, to find any valid information pertaining to the upcoming semester, the effect COVID-19 would have on tuition and health insurance.

Forced to play a bad game of telephone, Rezk was not happy with Fanshawe’s response.

“Unfortunately, they weren’t really helpful with their answers, I had to get transferred between multiple departments. Not all of them had tangible information so they would just transfer my call again to another department.”

After a few days, Rezk was relieved to get in contact with someone who could provide a constructive response. Unfortunately, that’s as far as the constructive responses go for him.

When asked if he feels safe coming back, Rezk does not.

His cause for concern stems from his doubt in Fanshawe’s ability to keep up with the rapidly changing information about COVID-19.

“The rules and regulations that come out of Fanshawe change accordingly [but] I am not 100 per cent sure if they actually know what they are doing. I don’t fully trust them. I feel that they care more about the financial and business aspect [of the school] rather than [being] 100 per cent sure that the students would be absolutely safe.”

Unsurprisingly, Rezk does not feel supported by Fanshawe, not at the beginning of the shutdown and not now.

“I expected a lot more from Fanshawe. I didn’t expect them to go above and beyond. I just expected them to match whatever was going on [financially] at other institutions.”

Rezk continues, “The amount of support that was available for international students at their schools was substantially better and more than what we got from Fanshawe.”

There is a small victory in all of this, Rezk applied and received the short-term financial support offered by Fanshawe back in April. It is a one-time payment of $500.

Rezk hopes Fanshawe will focus on hearing the many student voices echoing similar sentiments.

“I just wish that Fanshawe would think more about the actual student experience rather than the marketing aspect of it. Put in more thought and effort in making or advancing the technologies, advancing the student life, [and] community. [Make] it a good place to be.”

Keniesha Nesbitt

Nesbitt was excited for an eventful summer.

She had a new job lined up that would have made her comfortable financially to enjoy her first summer in Canada. She was also very excited to return home for her birthday to celebrate with family and friends; loved ones she hasn’t seen since the holiday season.

Like many others, Nesbitt is finding the forced reconstruction of our lives to be difficult.

“I’ve spent way too many hours in my room staring at a blank wall and it has not been that fun.”

With the rising death toll and no foreseeable end in sight, Nesbitt found herself wanting to go home immediately. Being both new to Canada and new to this pandemic, she was unsure about protocol.

Although no personal communication was made between Nesbitt and Fanshawe at the start of the pandemic, she was able to find comfort in the plethora of information found in the many WhatsApp groups started by and for international students.

Within said groups, Nesbitt vocalized the experience of some members’ communication with Fanshawe.

“There were a few students who tried to reach out to Fanshawe and tried to understand where they fit in during all of this and how things would be...Fanshawe did not answer back or didn’t give them a clear answer. Basically [they] didn’t give them the answers that they needed.”

Being made aware of their experiences Nesbitt felt it was “pointless” to try and communicate with Fanshawe, so she kept it minimal.

Nesbitt did appreciate Fanshawe’s communication as of late, having had a minor schedule conflict.

When asked if she felt safe coming back, like Rezk, she did not.

“I wouldn’t say I feel 100 per cent safe coming back. I would say probably 30 to 40 per cent.”

She eases her worry with the reassurance that masks and sanitizer will be made available, however, she does believe her ability to learn will be affected.

Drained of energy to give, Nesbitt didn’t and continues not to feel supported by Fanshawe.

The proverbial “stuff” hit the fan for Nesbitt with the surprise tuition increase within her program, only effecting international students.

She was not happy with Fanshawe’s response when asked about the almost $500 tuition hike.

“They said it would give the students a better experience online, at the end of the day it’s still online, so what was the money for? [Is it for] more videos? Honestly, what more can you do online?”

She was hoping for leniency to pay tuition since there was no financial help from Fanshawe coming her way, but the school was not budging on their policy.

“They wanted international students to pay all of their tuition [by] a certain time and if you didn’t then you didn’t have a place there.”

As she saw domestic students finding support from their government, she hoped to be able to do the same. Unfortunately, they could not help her financially as they were dealing with the surprise of a global pandemic.

With no job or government support, Nesbitt was struggling to pay rent and tuition. Luckily, with the help from family, she was able to financially survive this summer.

Nesbitt chose not to apply for the one-time $500 payment Fanshawe was offering, believing it would have been a long shot.

“Asking for financial help when a ton of international students would be asking for help... it’s pretty much a one in a million chance of getting picked... If your number gets picked you get the financial aid and if it doesn’t, you’re still stuck where you are.”

For more information about COVID-19 and the fall semester, visit Fanshawe’s website fanshawec.ca.