When students returned in Fall 2020, the lively campus, usually full of students, exciting events and social opportunities, was gone. Masks, plexiglass and online classes had become a new reality—one which everyone had to adapt.
“It’s asking a lot of college students to suspend their social lives, to suspend their recreational lives, to suspend what they imagined about or have experienced during college,” says Tracy Tyree, vice president of Student Affairs.
Erin Duff, the university COVID-19 coordinator, says, “My job is to ensure the safety of our students and staff. That’s a lot of responsibility so we do what we need to do to ensure that. We don’t take anything lightly.”
Going into the spring semester, COVID-19 testing went from 10 percent of the residential population to 100 percent.
Despite the risk of “quarantine fatigue” as students coped with the stress caused by COVID-19 and college, Duff says students did a good job following the safety measures put in place.
Duff says there is also a mental health crisis. She says the university has made efforts to reach out to students and ensure they don’t feel isolated. “Human interaction is a key piece to being happy and to feeling good,” says Duff.
Tamara Febus, a senior psychology major, says she feels the effects of the changing learning environment at Southern.
“Online classes don’t really allow for the collaborative-type of setting like on-campus classes,” she says.
“On-campus classes are also challenging because you don’t really interact with anyone around you. You’re there, but you’re separated from people,” she says referring to social distancing.
Febus says because there are still so many new COVID-19 cases being reported, she would feel more comfortable in a smaller class on campus.
The spring semester can be hard with the anticipation of summer break, but Febus says she worked hard to do well in this new normal.
“It depends on the difficulty of the class. I do have [asynchronous] classes this semester. I think that’s definitely more difficult because you’re basically teaching yourself,” she says.
Journalism major, Krishnalei So’oto, a freshman, has a unique perspective on the university COVID-19 approach. Since it’s her first year, COVID-19 college is all she knows. However, she says she feels optimistic.
“I think Southern has done a pretty good job with COVID so far. The recent implementation of weekly testing makes me really comfortable |with being on campus,” she says.
Despite the struggles that COVID-19 brought, the campus community found different ways to come together while maintaining a safe social distance.
“There’s this uniqueness about COVID where you have to figure out different ways of connecting with each other beside congregating,” says Duff. “I think it’s also challenged our student body in finding different ways to uplift each other and not always focus on the bad.”
Tyree says that Southern will return as a community stronger than ever, having gained irreplaceable knowledge that will set up for a bright future.
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