The Heart of LAU Campuses Beats Again
Sights and sounds captured on the first day of switching back to in-person learning speak of endurance and commitment to education.
“LAU is not the same without you,” the university had declared on its social media pages, shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic forced campuses shut. Today, its Beirut and Byblos campuses sprang back to life, following 18 months of full or partial closure.
The reopening was made possible by an extensive and swift vaccination campaign which was launched back in June and succeeded, over the course of the summer, in achieving safe levels of social immunity. More than 85 percent of faculty, students and staff have been vaccinated, and the unvaccinated will be required to test negative for COVID-19 prior to entering campus.
Apart from rising to health challenges, LAU had switched to critical-services-only mode in the weeks leading up to the reopening and will continue to adhere to strict fuel-saving measures to ensure the seamless continuity of in-person delivery.
In a statement to the community, President Michel E. Mawad pinpointed the motives that had driven, and continue to drive, LAU’s mission. “We are here to learn, because learning and education are our hope to transform our lives and our country,” and “to demonstrate our resourceful ability to find increasingly collective solutions,” he added, in reference to power cuts and fuel shortages.
Students mostly opted for carpooling, while some used public transport or even moved in to the dorms to be closer to campus. “It just feels good to be able to learn in person,” said freshman science student Omar Antar, who lives nearby and came on foot.
For some who joined LAU last year during COVID-19 closures, this was their introduction to campus life, one that they looked forwarded to.
Second-year computer science student Maya Darwish has never attended classes on campus before. “We will finally get the chance to socialize and make new friends – everyone keeps saying the university friends are different, and I’m excited to meet new people,” she said, adding that coming to campus was “challenging but worth it.”
Her colleague, Israa Hamieh, felt like life was finally “going back to normal” and “that university had finally started, because everyone says university is the best three to four years of your life and I was missing out.” As for transportation, she hoped for longer-term solutions, such as a bus option run by the university that picks up students from usual traffic junctions, “which would be more accessible and less expensive than having to pay for fuel,” she said.
Second-year education major Jina Hamzeh voiced similar concerns about the sustainability of carpooling amid the continued fuel crisis, but that with the country’s rate of power cuts, “the prospect of remote learning would be more challenging.”
For senior education student Hoda El-Attar, who was first on campus back in 2019, right before the October 17 Uprising and COVID-19, coming back was a breath of fresh air. “I was very excited to be back as I love campus life,” she said, hoping that the administration would be more flexible with friends who live further away from campus than she does. “They should give more options for students who are unable to make it to campus – at least for the current semester,” she added.
Dr. Mawad’s words rang true, when he said that “We are here because your university will be the oasis for living and learning, discoveries and creativity, and so that our youth stays anchored in Lebanon and does not get uprooted from their friends, family and culture.”
Indeed, LAU had increased its financial aid offering to reach $80 million in the past year, covering 70 percent of its student body, in an effort to ease ever-growing financial burdens on students and their families.
In parallel, it also took an unprecedented step of tapping into its endowment fund to provide relief packages to its faculty and staff, and launched a Talent Retention Fund to retain high-ranking physicians and faculty.
With color returning to campuses, and the buzz of students in and out of classrooms, labs and studios, the vibrant feel on campus spelled out a story of hope: that LAU will endure.
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