USC arts students call attention to issues raised with online classes

Students share their experiences and troubles while using the remote video conference system, Zoom, for their performing and visual art classes during the coronavirus threat.

As classes turn online for solutions amid concerns of the spread of COVID-19, some arts students at USC feel that this solution will not be compatible with their education.

In a statement from USC Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Charles F. Zukoski released on March 6, the university decided to move all classes from in-person to running off an online video chat platform called Zoom from March 11 to March 13. These remote classes have now extended to April 14.

For students studying performing and visual arts, where classes are heavily reliant on studio practice, Zoom is seen as a hindrance.

“I feel like it’s a lot more stressful than actually attending class at this point,” said Kris Luna, a freshman performance major in vocal arts.

Luna’s major requires that they attend vocal lessons and rehearsal all day. Now, Luna is confined to a computer screen where they have to get instruction through a video chat with their professor.

“My professor expressed a lot of disdain towards the whole Zoom thing because, as a vocalist, it's hard to get instruction,” they said. “There’s only so much she can say vocally without showing me physically what she’s describing,” they said.

The issues with remote lessons extend to all arts majors.

A petition that called for a better solution than online classes began circulating over social media among arts students at USC on Thursday. Members of the BFA acting class of 2021 drafted the petition, which now has 431 signatures. The petition called for a solution that would not impede on the education and artistic exploration that comes from in-person courses.

It says, “if there can be no in-person classes for this continually extended deadline of online class work, then there can be no meaningful exploration of the many artistic forms we, as the artistic student body of USC, came to partake in and—more importantly—have paid for in full.”

Students across the performing and visual arts community shared how they faced specific challenges as a result of USC’s response to the coronavirus epidemic.

In terms of their academic facilities, they noted their concern of how live performances and studio-based classes will function. “There can be no meaningful exploration of the many artistic forms...the artistic student body of USC....came to partake in,” the statement read.

The letter also addresses the financial burden from the suspension of in-person classes.

Emma Pulaski, a sophomore majoring in design in the Roski School, resonated with many of the points being made.

“I don’t have access to the 3D printing lab and wood workshop that the academy has provided, which is where I do all of my projects for design,” Pulaski said. “Zoom doesn’t have those resources either.”

She recognized that there are some modes of design that can be made flexible, including digital design, but even with that, “the quality of the projects are just not going to be the same,” said Pulaski.

Katie Schindler, a freshman in the Architecture School, expressed similar frustrations with not being able to access the studio space or collaborate with students.

“The design process is really collaborative and we do a lot to support each other,” said Schindler. “I think life and the quality of education will be very different without that space and community.”

For performance arts majors, students don’t have access to resources required for their classes. This could be anything from instruments to studios for rehearsals.

Syera Plitt, a freshman BFA dance major, shared in an email to Annenberg Media that her typical is filled with the action of classes back-to-back from 9 a.m to 5 p.m. - not including a possible rehearsal in the evening.

Now, however, she is confined to a dorm.

“Zoom has just made all of my classes less active,” Plitt said. “My classmates and I are confined to limited amounts of space (dorms, hallways, outdoors, etc) where we can’t physically do what we normally do.”

The petition did, however, express the students’ gratitude for the administration’s “continued communication” with the student body and for “taking measures to ensure the safety and health of our community at large.”

The statement ended with students proposing alternative solutions, such as summer courses or some means of financial compensation.

“I think it’s an admirable thing to do,” said Pulaski. “I really hope the school responds favorably to the petition so that we can come up with an alternative solution that will still allow us to work on these projects.”

Annenberg Media contacted the university but did not get a comment on the topic in time for publication.

Beyond the online courses, now there is concern of cancelled performances in the schools.

In a memo released on March 10, Zukoski said that all events between March 11 and March 29 were cancelled, but that “exceptions will be made for academic performances and recitals.”

Since then, an additional memo released the next day extended the remote sessions to April 14, cancelling events up to April 10. At the time, there was still a gray area for arts students who still had shows to perform later in the semester.

The USC School of Dramatic Arts ultimately decided to cancel the remainder of the production season in a memo released by Dean David Bridel Thursday evening to the school’s community. The cancellation of shows not only hindered rehearsal schedules, but also the curriculum of the program. Bridel went on in the memo to explain that faculty will be reassessing how to substitute the loss in the students’ education to ensure criteria of their courses are being met.

In a memo released Friday, Zukoski stated that “Conducting classes remotely is a different experience for many of us and there will be ongoing adjustments that we need to make.”

Other arts schools are beginning to notify students of show cancellations. USC Thornton School of Music sent a memo by Dean Robert Cutietta to their community March 14 confirming they will be cancelling “all remaining ensemble performance for the Spring 2020 semester, both on and off campus.” This includes scheduled degree recitals which are required by performance majors to advance to the next year, or even graduate. The memo noted that the school is in discussion of solutions for this important recital.

Luna said the cancellation of these performances impacted not only their education, but also their career.

“Especially for us classical vocal artists, we barely get to perform,” Luna said. “We only get to perform a few times a year and the fact that I was supposed to perform for three performances and all of those got cancelled. That impacts my career.”

They understand that these measures come from safety. What Luna and the petition calls for is attention from the university towards the realities of being an arts student during the COVID-19 pandemic threat.

“I’m someone who is very logical so I don’t think USC can or will do anything about it,” Luna said. “But I think the petition can definitely start the conversation and to let USC know that ‘hey just letting you know, the arts students of USC are suffering here.”

Updated 7:16 p.m. Sunday March 15 with a memo on the cancellation of performances by USC Thornton School of Music.