A group of Penn State graduate students will hold a “die-in” July 20 to protest the university administration’s decision to return to in-person classes in the fall, saying the decision risks lives to COVID-19.
“University administration is tacitly stating that there is an acceptable amount of death for a return to in-person instruction. We disagree,” said Bailey Campbell, one of the die-in’s organizers, in a news release.
The Coalition of Graduate Employees is organizing the protest, which will take place at 10:30 a.m. in front of Old Main, the administration building on the University Park campus. Along with speakers, the event will include protestors lying down for 13 minutes on Old Main lawn to represent the more than 130,000 deaths from the coronavirus in the United States so far.
The coalition wants the university to change its plans for in-person instruction; release its emergency plans for closing or moving entirely online; and advocate for international students in light of a recent proposal by the federal government that international students need to have in-person instruction for their visas to remain valid.
Penn State has come out against the policy and is supporting a lawsuit by universities to stop it.
Spokeswoman Rachel Pell said in an email that there isn't one number that would trigger ending in-person classes. Instead, she said, many factors are at play, including whether cases are mild and individuals can be isolated, or if cases are more serious and require hospitalization.
Pell said the university is concerned by the current trends and is monitoring state and national data and following guidance from health officials.
"Based on that guidance, and in consultation with faculty experts in epidemiology, medicine and public health, the university is prepared to adjust its approach as necessary, including the possibility that Penn State would need to shift the semester to a fully remote learning environment once again," Pell said.
University administrators have said faculty able to teach in-person are expected to do so. The university has outlined safety measures it is taking, including moving classes of more than 250 people online.
More than 1,100 faculty and 475 graduate students and others have signed a petition demanding the university let faculty decide how they’ll teach their classes and calling for a greater say in the decision-making.
The number of COVID-19 cases in Centre County and Pennsylvania has been increasing. As of Monday, there are 251 confirmed or suspected cases in Centre County, up from 205 July 1.