With the flurry of activity that comes at the beginning of a new semester at Willamette, and thanks to the rise of remote learning, students are facing the limitations of Willamette's WiFi network. Slow connectivity issues, multiple system wide crashes, and difficulty with actually getting connected onto the Blitznet network have left students frustrated and confused. In a pre-COVID-19 world, poor WiFi connectivity would be annoying, but it wouldn't be the deciding factor in how some students would be able to attend class. But considering that a large portion of on-campus students have decided to attend their classes remotely over Zoom and that entire courses are being taught remotely, poor internet connectivity could be the difference for a student to even go to a class. This is unacceptable: Willamette must treat WiFi connectivity as the issue that it is.
College tuition, even with financial aid, can be extremely expensive ($43,000 next year without scholarship); and if a student is paying that tuition then they should be able to attend their classes without something as simple as internet connectivity getting in their way. Again, attending classes remotely isn’t just an easy way out of going to in person class, for many people it’s the only way they can actually attend their courses. Seen this way, the problem is not about bad WiFi and more about a lack of accessibility. Remote classes can be difficult even with a great WiFi connection, but throw in constant buffering and the experience of an in-person student could be drastically better than the experience of a remote student. Why should a remote student risk being in an in-person class because the safe option just isn’t working for them academically?
In response to student outcry, the Willamette Integrated Technology Services (WITS) has started to provide free ethernet cables and adapters for students who have been struggling with latency issues in their dorm rooms. For some, like first-year Isaac Woodman, using an ethernet cable has been a workable solution to slow internet around campus. “It’s certainly not perfect,” says Woodman, “but it definitely is a lot better than just using the regular Blitznet connection.” While ethernet cables don’t help connectivity outside of dorm rooms or on phones, they are a decent work around for the lackluster internet on campus. Ethernet cables are a good start, but realistically just a band-aid.
The Willamette Administration needs to treat WiFi like the accessibility problem that it is. If this continues, it will not only create a massive gap between remote students and in person students, but it will create a toxic environment that promotes risking personal health to achieve in school.