For a year which promised normalcy, 2021 did not begin that badly at all. With the opening of the onboarding portal in February, it finally seemed like we could see the light at the end of the gloomy tunnel we’d been forced into. A false dawn it was though, as only a month later, we were drawn into a second draining confrontation with our invisible foe.
With the coming of the vaccines, despite the dispiriting environment around, there was always a hope that better times may be inbound. Finally, on the 15th of July, the re-opening of the onboarding portal once again ignited the alluring dreams of a return to the much-romanticized campus life. The ensuing couple of weeks were a blur, with a frequent peppering of “Tune form bhara kya?” and “Teri request accept hui kya?”, with the end result being, by the 10th of August, over 700 UG students had onboarded on campus.
The initial expectations from onboarding were forthright. Reinitiating campus activities in a phased manner as the situation eases, leading up to an eventual resumption of regular affairs. However, the entire operation has faced many glitches, leaving a multitude of issues in its wake.
As the next phase of onboarding approaches, we seek to take a closer look at the onboarding process and question what happened behind the scenes in those blurry few weeks. We also catch a glimpse of what life for the onboarded looks like in COVID times, and if students are holding up their end of the bargain.
Getting Approved: Who makes the cut?
We talked to several students as we tried to demystify the process of an onboarding request getting approved. In the process, we unearthed many unusual (read: logic-defying) stories which validate why not everyone is happy with how the onboarding requests were dealt with.
In some cases, similar requests made by different students were treated disparately. One perplexed student narrated, “I know two people, one from Mumbai and the other one from Delhi, both of whom applied citing connectivity issues. Surprisingly, the request from Bombay was rejected due to the unlikelihood of the student facing internet issues in a metropolitan city, but doesn’t the same argument hold for the one from Delhi?”
In another similar case, the request of a student from Jaipur* was rejected, even as comparable requests of his friends, including a few from Delhi, were accepted.
“There’s no clarity as to what parameters they’re using to filter out requests - does my locality or branch make a difference? In some cases, the approvals and rejections seem pretty arbitrary.” commented one student, stressing the need for more transparency in the approval process.
With these concerns, we approached the administration to get some clarity about the parameters on which a request is assessed. “Our onboarding ‘algo’ is to minimize exclusion and inclusion errors. We prioritize students who were sent tablets or dongles as well as students who had applied last December but could not be onboarded due to the second wave.”
However, the ADSW mentioned the reason why they haven’t been forthcoming about their priority list. “We have noticed a pattern. If we approve one student who cites ongoing construction as a reason, in the following days, a lot of students cite that as a reason.”
* Name of the city changed by request
“Kuch bhi likh rahe hai log”
According to the administration, while processing onboarding requests, the ‘dire’ requests are filtered out first, and all such requests are approved. This raises a few questions – What defines ‘dire’, and what is the exact procedure to verify whether these requests are indeed ‘dire’?
With the desperation to experience the glorified campus life once again (or for the first time), comes packaged the tendency to exaggerate one’s problems and make farcical claims. Several students we talked to reported knowing someone who had laid it on a bit thick in their onboarding requests.
“One of my friends wrote about non-existent financial problems at their home. Someone I know even threatened suicide if their claim would be rejected!” said one onboarded student. “Even fudging ones’ address isn’t that uncommon now.”
Verifying claims made on ERP is a challenging yet indispensable task. It would indeed be unfortunate if someone with an embellished request is onboarded at the expense of someone with a sincere requirement.
In response to BSP’s query, the ADSW said, “We have been getting a lot of complaints about students being judicious with the truth. We are in no position to verify these complaints, nor would we like to get into a situation where we have to question what they say to us.”
The multitude of problems that cropped up in IIT Delhi’s onboarding and the dissatisfaction among the student community made us wonder how our peers from other IITs were faring in these unsettling times. We reached out to some students from other IITs to find out how well their reopening processes were going.
We found that while IIT Roorkee and IIT Bombay have also implemented preferential onboarding for resource-constrained students, there is one key difference that makes their efforts seem more systematic. Both colleges have employed checks to verify the onboarding requests. IIT Roorkee is allowing those students to onboard, who had previously opted to appear for offline exams due to resource constraints and IIT Bombay requires submission of proofs for assessing the validity of requests. On a similar note, IIT Kanpur requires students who wish to onboard to fill a tediously long form that includes declaring details about the specifics of the student’s condition.
While no process is perfect and students everywhere have tried and succeeded in feigning plight, in some of the other institutes, there is a visible effort to avoid such instances, which is missing from the system in IITD.
Post-onboarding Life: The New Normal
Since the onboarding portal was opened, the general tone of the administration has been that for smooth onboarding, the onus of following the COVID protocols is on the students and that every violation of these norms makes it harder to accommodate more students on campus.
“Every time a student has a pizza party, all 1000 students get a bad name forever”.
We looked into what exactly happens on the other side of the ‘onboarding’ wall, and how the beloved campus looks like in post-COVID times. Several security protocols have been implemented on campus. These include mask mandates in public places, heavy fines on violators and night-time ‘raids’ in hostels.
Social distancing is regularly checked in most eateries and other places like Ex hall, where people tend to congregate. Most people can be seen following these norms as guards continue to surveil the campus.
However, on talking to some students who are on-campus, we also discovered some points of concern. “While most people do wear a mask at all times fearing a fine, social distancing is another matter. The campus is huge, and it’s hard for them (the authorities) to keep a check of it everywhere.” said a newly onboarded sophomore. A copious amount of Instagram stories of celebrations in hostel rooms, trips across Delhi and late-night promenades on campus corroborate this.
There are also concerns regarding the mandatory quarantine when students arrive on campus. A student remarked, “The degree of strictness of the quarantine varies from hostel to hostel. Some implement it strictly, but in a lot of cases it’s not paid heed to.”
The Way Forward
We started this article with the intention of trying to take a peek behind the onboarding scenes, and perhaps try to understand what to expect from the next phase. As we delved deeper, we found more questions than answers; but we did realize that smooth as it looked, the process was not quite seamless. The lack of transparency, coupled with some cases where the decisions seem arbitrary, throw the process in a less than glamorous light. Further, the portal was seemingly muddled with dubious claims from over-enthusiastic students.
While looking into campus life in COVID times, we also discovered that there are certain hiccups related to compliance with COVID protocols. Keeping in mind that even a few rogue cases set an unfavourable example in the eyes of the authorities, how well the student community on campus behaves under the restrictions will be paramount in determining how the next phase of onboarding unfolds.
As the process moves forward, we will continue on our pursuit for the answers to the questions that we pose here and bring a more comprehensive report about the new normal in a post COVID world. Meanwhile, it is the collective responsibility of the IITD community to ensure everyone’s well-being on campus and facilitate a smooth return to the normalcy we all have been craving for so long.