Despite virtual classes, students pack the Watsco center against UNC

UM students packed the Watsco Center on Tuesday, January 18 to support the men's basketball team in their win over North Carolina.
UM students packed the Watsco Center on Tuesday, January 18 to support the men's basketball team in their win over North Carolina. Photo credit: Alex Carnochan

More than 100 students stood lined up outside the Watsco Center, clamoring to get in to catch the end of the first half.

Miami men’s basketball, now 6-1 in the ACC, tore through North Carolina 85-57 at home Tuesday night, the same night classes started, virtually.

UM students, though extremely appreciative to be allowed inside the Watsco Center to cheer on the Canes, expressed a degree of confusion.

“I’m confused as to why I’m not allowed to go into an academic setting wearing a mask with my peers but I am allowed to go into an athletic school-spirit setting doing the same thing, because it seems to me like both things are important but at the core level of what this school is about, shouldn’t we be focusing on academics?” said Jack St. Hilaire, a senior majoring in computer science, during halftime of the game.

President Julio Frenk announced in December that the first two weeks of classes would be conducted exclusively online because of COVID-19, with students allowed to move into their on-campus dorms anytime during that period. The dining halls on campus currently are available for take-out only, but the Wellness Center is operating with no added restrictions. All indoor activities for the first two weeks were moved to a virtual format and student organizations are only allowed to hold meetings virtually.

However, Tuesday night, roughly 1,200 students packed the student section of the Watsco Center.

“I’m a little confused why the only thing in South Florida that I can’t do is go to class in-person,” said senior Brett Nemetz.

Frenk reiterated many times in the fall semester that COVID-19 transmission in classrooms is essentially nonexistent.

“Working together, we have achieved zero in-classroom transmission and have found effective ways to manage cases on campus so we can provide an enriching experience for our students, faculty, staff and community,” Frenk said in an email to students on Dec. 14, 2021.

The decision to have virtual class the first two weeks upset many students that were hoping for a continued sense of normality after a relatively uneventful fall-2021 semester.

“It seems like their messaging is really confusing and makes the decision to go online seem unsure,” said Katie Devore, a senior majoring in marine science and mathematics.

This Saturday, the Canes take on Florida State at the Watsco Center in a highly-anticipated rematch of their first matchup on January 11, which the Seminoles won 65-64 in Tallahassee. There will undoubtedly be more students in attendance at that game than Tuesday’s game.

Miami’s players and coaches acknowledge how much of a difference it makes to play a game when there’s a big student section.

“That makes a huge difference for our players to have the support from the community and the student body,” Miami head men’s basketball coach Jim Larrañaga said after the win over North Carolina. “I give a lot of credit to the student body, they were terrific. Our players went into the stands to thank them for that.”