The ANU Disabilities Student Association (DSA) and ANUSA have jointly put forward a statement advocating against the ANU’s decision to transition academic activities back on campus full time.

ANUSA and the DSA have highlighted their concern about the ANU’s focus on returning to full-time on-campus learning and how this push has overlooked the needs of and the effect on disabled and working students, the implications of which are mounting as Australia and the ACT experience rapidly growing new waves of COVID-19 and influenza infections.

Of particular concern to the DSA is the lack of explicit assurance that students who are immunocompromised, live with disabilities or have work commitments will be accommodated during the transition back to in-person learning activities.

Additionally, the DSA expressed their concern for the “lack of communication about the processes and contingency plans that will alleviate or eliminate the possibilities of exclusion for immunocompromised and disabled students, and well as students with isolation requirements due to COVID-19 infection or close contact.”

The ANU’s decision to return learning on campus full-time stands isolated from the rest of Australia’s Group of 8 universities who will continue to teach in hybrid and online learning modes.

Key areas of concern for the DSA include:

  • A lack of confidence in the safety of immunocompromised students and students with pre-existing conditions who may have to expose themselves to danger to study;
  • A lack of COVID-19 specific support and adjustments for students who contract COVID-19 during the semester;
  • A lack of workaround for students who must isolate at home after being in contact with a person who has contracted COVID-19;
  • The alienation of disabled students who will no longer have the option to self-manage or pace their learning in conjunction with their fatigue; pain and/or other symptoms that may impact their ability to learn in person;
  • And a reduction in learning opportunities for working undergraduate and postgraduate students which can jeopardise their ability to maintain both their university and work commitments

The DSA emphasised that the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated risks are far from over. The ramifications of growing infection rates coupled with the easing of pandemic-related restrictions has positioned returning to campus for at-risk students dangerous, fearful, and at times impossible. They stated that representatives from ANUSA and the DSA “regularly hear from students that online learning options have been the only reason they have continued university,” as online learning has enabled students with mental and physical health conditions to participate meaningfully without having to shoulder the burdens of commute times or travel to campus.

Moreover, students have expressed to the DSA and ANUSA how online learning not only safeguards their own safety, but also allows them to continue their studies without compromising the health of at-risk household members, family, friends, their children and those they care for.

Together, ANUSA and the DSA have called for the ANU:

  • To allow all classes where it is feasibly possible to have one or more online options available for tutorials;
  • An active promotion of access and inclusion principles including flexible extensions;
  • Tutorial participation grading options, and alternative mechanisms for completing in-person class work;
  • Free masks and RATs for all staff and students;
  • And a reintroduction of CRS/SRN for students who students should be able to have reasonable workarounds created should they be unwell.
  • The ANU is providing a limited number of RATs and face masks between Harry Harthog and the Copland building.

The statement concluded that the DSA are eager to see “all students and staff protected at their university,” and that the “ANU must respond promptly to legitimate concerns for student and staff safety, and we urge the ANU to work with students to find a solution that addresses the re-emerging health crisis in the ACT over the coming months.”