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Opinion: Stay Seated (Here): Problems with the New Seating Charts

Chairs in an empty classroom
Photo by Olivia Slack

Meredith's campus has seen several changes in COVID-19 class protocol since classes started on Aug. 18. These changes include new guidance on social distancing (three feet instead of six), the inability to eat or drink within the classroom and perhaps the most dreaded: seating charts. There are several complaints one may have when it comes to seating charts, especially in regards to COVID-19 safety.

Like every other Meredith student, I learned about the new seating chart procedures when I walked into class. While I understand the reasoning behind them, I do believe there needs to be uniformity among how professors do seating charts. In small classrooms where the class number reaches capacity, it is unfair to assign seats without allowing students time to figure out where they will be most comfortable. There could be several reasons why a student prefers a seat in the front as opposed to one in the back and vice versa. Students with specific learning and physical disabilities may need a seat in the front before getting their accommodation letter from Disability Services. Immunocompromised and COVID-19 conscious students may be wary of having to sit near classmates who do not share the same regard for health safety as they do. How is it fair that once we sit in a seat, we are stuck there for the rest of the semester before even knowing if those around share the same regard for safety as we do? Many of us do not want to sit near someone who may not have our best interests in mind as they go out every weekend or disregard COVID-19 safety regularly. Some students may have lacked the confidence during the first weeks of classes to voice these concerns to their professors.

Another issue with these new seating charts is the way the rules keep changing. How come we are allowed to have classrooms at full capacity and sit within three feet of each other, but as soon as the person next to us contracts COVID-19 we will get an email informing us we were within six feet of them? The fact that Meredith can fill up classrooms and then add these secondary “precautions” is ridiculous. If three feet is close enough to be at risk of contracting covid and so is six then why has three feet suddenly become the standard?

Outside of the pandemic, there are the general concerns that have plagued seating charts for years. Seating charts often disrupt the creative flow and engagement of a classroom. Professors do not always know which students are quiet and which ones are on the more talkative side or which students may not get along as well. By placing someone near a person they may not be particularly interested in interacting with, or not allowing them to switch seats during the first few classes, the classroom dynamic may suffer. A student may be too distracted by the person sitting next to them to even focus.

Seating charts can be very effective when there are students who may have more disruptive tendencies, but as students age, they crave the freedom of being able to choose their own seat. If students were allowed to pick their own seats whenever they need to, learning would become more self-accountable. In semesters past, including last semester, students were allowed to choose their seats, and usually by the third week everyone had their own self-assigned unassigned seat, therefore making seating charts unnecessary in a college setting.

If Meredith wants to continue having seating charts, that is fine, but there must be uniformity and precautions across the board. In every class there either needs to be assigned seats or none at all. There also needs to be a clear guidance on three feet versus six feet because currently it seems like it changes based on convenience. Classes should not be at capacity if the College is unable to accommodate ample space for all.

By Rachel Van Horne, Associate Editor


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