Art students at Appalachian State University are continuing to protest what they say are unsafe learning conditions.

Renovation began on Wey Hall, which houses the art department, last year. Some classes were shuffled around to other spaces, but others continued on the first floor while construction took place. 

Emily Suits, a sophomore majoring in fine art photography, says it’s been a battle to work in those conditions. 

“I had an 8 a.m. class last semester," Suits said. "And it was almost unbearable to get through critiques sometimes, when you can't hear your professor talking over drilling.”

A couple of weeks ago, she says her class heard a loud noise, and then noticed one of the ceiling tiles starting to crack. They called in another professor for help. 

“He removed the ceiling tile, and found a large concrete core sitting on the cracked tile that was probably minutes away from falling through the ceiling," Suits said.

That incident, along with concrete debris falling in a faculty member’s office, led to class being canceled for a few days. But students had begun raising safety concerns almost a year before that happened.

They’ve held protests over the last few weeks and created petitions calling for tuition reimbursement. Suits says she pays around $12,000 a year for her classes. 

“If I knew, when I started going to school here that this was going to be the situation, I would have chosen a different school," Suits said.

Shannon Campbell, the dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts, recently spoke about the issue during a Facebook Live event.

“The art department advocated for the ability for students to remain in those studio spaces for this allotted amount of time, simply because we all know art cannot be taught in a best practices approach via Zoom," Campbell said. "And so I'm not sure that we fully thought through all of the implications, but we did know that we would be having classes in an active construction environment.” 

Campbell didn’t give an answer regarding reimbursement, but she did say this — “We have attempted to make all of the students whole by assuring them that their faculty will be flexible with regard to deadlines, and timelines." 

Students are still attending classes at Wey Hall, with renovation set to be completed in the summer of 2025. The university hasn’t shared where art classes will be held next semester.

Amy Diaz covers education for WFDD in partnership with Report For America. You can follow her on Twitter at @amydiaze.

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