As we settle back into our desk chairs after a holiday week, it’s important to note that we are headed into the 10th month of this pandemic. These 10 months have created a dramatic shift in our daily lives and our work lives. Another demographic that has seen major changes are college students. WISE Indiana wanted to explore how exactly the pandemic has affected the traditional college experience. We had the opportunity to sit down with two Indiana University students for them to tell us about their experiences during the pandemic. These two students were Student A, a sophomore female living in sorority housing, and Student B, a freshman male living in Indiana University housing.
What fears or concerns did you have before coming to campus?
First, I was going into living in a shared space with a bunch of other women, and also a shared space of being on campus with 40,000 other students, give or take some because of this odd year. I was definitely nervous about trying to maintain a connection with my fellow peers while also trying to stay safe. I was also nervous about online classes coming in, obviously. At the end of last year, everyone was just kind of thrown into online classes. I knew it would be very different from that experience, but also very different from my freshman year with being fully in person at IU. Our chapter worked really closely with the Monroe County health department, and so Monroe County came through to our chapter home and looked at all of our safety guidelines and what we were vowing as a chapter to follow. So, we changed our sleeping arrangements to which we were all in bunk beds six feet apart. Our bunkmates were only people who were our roommates, so our pods were staying the same. We set up plastic sheeting in those rooms to kept he pods separate. We encouraged mask wearing when you entered any rooms that weren’t yours’. I do think the leadership in my chapter were very vigilant about setting up these precautions.
I was just coming as a freshman in the first place. I know what we do in our house to stay safe. I guess coming in, one of my concerns was that I wasn’t sure how safe other people were being. You can only be so safe on your own. I didn’t know if everyone was going to be walking around without masks breathing on each other constantly, but that’s not the case. Going along with that, living in a dorm with other people, I don’t have a roommate, so that’s nice, but other people are in the halls. It seemed like the university was taking it seriously and taking a lot of safety precautions, but the other students are always a wild card. I was considering going to a school in Boston. Being hours away from home, instead of states away from home during this time when I could get sick at any time, that’s nice if anything horrible happens, my parents can come pick me up. The benefits of being closer to home were amplified because of COVID.
How has your learning been impacted by the pandemic? Are you learning primarily online? Primarily in-person? Do you feel like you’re learning the same amount?
I’d say I feel like I’m probably learning less while doing more, if that makes sense. I feel like I have a lot of work going on and some professors are taking a lot of liberties with their classes. For example, one of my classes, I have a live Zoom lecture once a week, and then I also have 1- 2 recorded lectures that I’m also doing, as well as projects and assignments. For students that I’ve talked to that have taken that class in other semesters, it is more work this year to do those extra lectures. A lot of my peers and I have a lot of work that we’re always doing. A lot of that work is seen more as busy work. I feel like a lot of professors are trying to get a lot of information out, but I don’t know if it’s working very effectively.
I have two in-person classes at the moment; my main guitar class and my guitar ensemble class. It was nice, for ensemble, that we’re small enough and able to practice 6 feet apart and it’s just fine. And we’re not blowing into anything, so we can wear a mask. I’m sure that’s really lame for all the horn players that can’t do ensemble.
Every other class is online. For some classes, it’s not bad. For the classes that are lecture, it doesn’t affect it that much. I’m really only in one big lecture class, one of my business classes with 50 or 60 kids in the Zoom. Everyone stays muted, cameras off, nothing. I feel like if we were in person, it would encourage slightly more participation, because everyone’s scared to say something. You don’t want to be the one person who unmutes. If we were in person, you could raise your hand and it’s easy. Again, all of my experiences are from high school, so I don’t really know about college, I just assume it would be similar. I feel like talking in person with a human and being able to ask questions and communicate in person instead of through a screen would help with understanding at least some amount. You miss things and sometimes it cuts out, and you know you can always ask them to repeat, but it’s just little harder.
Are your classes using online proctoring software? Is there any additional exam stress?
We have used a lockdown browser, where you can’t use any other outside resources, but that has been about it on the proctoring side. I’m also taking another class that’s using IUAnyWare – which is connecting to one of the stationary desktops owned by IU – so they have the ability to look at where you’re clicking on your screen. Though, I feel like that’s pretty consistent to what they’ve done in other years. I just think we’re remote instead of being in a lab space.
I’ve had a couple of online tests and that’s pretty weird. You have to use lockdown browsers. You have to download the test, then go to the printer to print it out, then do the test, then take a picture of it, then put it back in. It’s a lot more complicated and stressful than it should be because of the time limit. They give you more time to do the technical stuff, but there is still technical stuff you wouldn’t normally have to do, that’s not just part of the test. That’s kind of obnoxious.
How has your college experience been impacted by the pandemic? Social events? On campus activities? Sporting events?
I feel like I am not meeting as many new people this year, which is very unfortunate. One of the biggest things for people participating in Greek life is the connection to other people participating in Greek life – whether that’s through combined philanthropic events, or different social activities.
I know for sure something that’s been impacting our chapter is the mitigation testing. Our COVID testing at the beginning of the year was relatively stressful because we were being picked for the random sampling every week. Which turned to our eyes to not seem as random, so out of the 70 women that were living in my chapter that had not previously tested positive for COVID, almost every single one of them were selected for testing every week. It was just frustrating to see every week that we’ve been selected for random sampling, when we knew it was pointed more strongly at Greek life.
We are seeing a large decrease in numbers of women that are signing up for recruitment. In years past, we’ve had around 2,000 women sign up to go through primary recruitment. This year, we had to extend the deadline to sign up just because there was a huge drop in numbers. Now we only have around 800 women that are signing up.
Socially, it’s tough. When you don’t go to classes with people, it’s pretty hard to meet people. I had a couple of friends coming in from high school, so hanging out with them was good to start. Really, I’m in my dorm, I do classes, and I have those couple classes that are in person, but everyone in my guitar ensemble are juniors and seniors, so I don’t really hang out with them. It’s kind of hard. You have to work more than you should to meet people and be social and not stay in your dorm.
There are no indoor gatherings. You can have 4-5 people in a dorm at a time, but when it’s November and cold, you want to hang out inside with a relatively small group of friends. I don’t think anyone would consider 7 a massive gathering, but there’s nowhere to be inside. I imagine a bunch of people in a chilling on couches in a lounge playing Mario Kart, but you can’t really do that.
Did you or any of your friends have to be isolated? How did that impact your learning experience?
We have a specific wing in our chapter facility where we were able to isolate women who had tested positive or were deemed close contacts, so they were able to isolate and stay in the facility and able to use a different bathroom.
We were all asked to move to our family homes when our chapter went on full quarantine. Our chapter was required to move from 100% capacity down to 75% capacity after that. It caused around 20 women to have to find other living arrangements around Bloomington already into the semester. In Bloomington, in general, finding housing is already a hassle, even a year in advance of when you want to be living there. A lot of women either had to live at home, or move far away from campus or from our facility, so they weren’t very connected to our chapter anymore.
A couple music students, everybody knew somebody but nobody knew everybody, we got together and had dinner, then someone in the group tested positive. Everybody went to the quarantine dorm at the same time. We stayed in our room most of the time, going to the bathrooms occasionally. You could go outside in designated places for only about 30 minutes at a time so that other people could rotate out. Honestly, if there is an ideal situation to get close contacted, that was it. Even though it wasn’t great, it was so much easier because I had people I knew down the hall that I could talk to and make fun of our situation. That’s how the friend group came about.
How has the altered semester schedule and format impacted your class performance?
I’d say my grades are pretty comparable to years past, or to semesters past. However, my burnout rate is much higher this semester. I do also have a few classes that are ended at 13 weeks this year, right before Thanksgiving, as opposed to ending in December as we usually do. So they’re packing more class work into a shorter amount of time, which is not helping.
I would say my class performance hasn’t altered too much, but my personal overall experience has altered quite a bit. I’m not going to walk on campus, I’m just staying in a few locations doing more work. That’s how I spend my day – in a few locations getting my work done. So whether that’s in the chapter home or at the IMU. It’s just a lot of getting work done, watching lectures, being in class, doing more work, that kind of thing.
I’m definitely learning a lot. I am in no way feeling like the time is wasted, it’s definitely good. Obviously, I don’t know what my grades would have been without COVID, but I don’t think it’s affecting it too much. I think that for some things, I would grasp concepts better and be able to remember better if I was physically in the same room as someone explaining the stuff to me and I could be like “I don’t understand this, what’s going on here?” instead of unmuting on Zoom. It’s just strange.
How has the pandemic impacted your mental health? Do you know where to access mental health resources if you need them?
Thankfully, I haven’t dealt with a lot of mental health impacts, but I also wasn’t fighting that before the pandemic hit. However, I do know that that was a reason that so many women did want to live out of the chapter facility was because of their mental health. It was very stressful to know whether or not we were going to get shut down, whether or not we were going to have to leave at the last minute – because when we were shutdown on quarantine, we had only about two days to leave the facility. Women who lived farther away, or were from out of state, they had to scramble really quickly. I do know that a lot of women had to prioritize their mental health over living in the chapter house this semester.
I do feel like our chapter does a good job of distributing resources. One of our leaders sends out resources in an email each week covering different ways to access help or different methods of prioritizing your mental health. That includes CAPS and the different mental health advocates and counsellors we have on campus. We have different things posted in our house that have different numbers of specialists to contact, and different ways to contact therapists and mental health specialists in general. I do feel like my chapter does a pretty good job facilitating that. I have also noticed that in various campus emails, they do have resources linked there that are with the different campus professionals as well.
I’m doing fine. I’m usually fine. Towards the end of the two-week quarantine, it started to get rough, but after quarantine, I magically had friends, so that was great. Even when I spent far too much time in my room and probably saw only one person occasionally, the experience was still new enough that having the experience at all was enough. By the time it would have started impacting my mental health, I figured out how best to manage.
They put posters for mental health resources on the doors of the dorms. When I was in quarantine, towards the end, they called me about mental health. They made sure mention where to go if I needed to talk with anyone.
What would you say to university administrators as they’re planning the Spring semester?
I would just say that I understand that this semester is very different than what many professors and instructors have done in the past. They’ve had to totally re-evaluate and rework their curriculum and class, and I understand it is difficult to calibrate that for an online semester. I would say consider how much work is within your curriculum, and consider what might be unnecessary. I feel like this year there’s a lot of burnout, and I can 100% guarantee it will be worse next semester, due to the fact that we’re looking at 15 weeks straight on with no breaks next semester. I would say the biggest thing overall is try to see how much you can cut down on extra assignments.
Some of my classes are behind because of technology issues. I do feel like the live Zoom lectures are more effective than the asynchronous lectures, but I feel like that’s a personal preference. It’s easier for me if I’m looking at my professor, and I feel like I would retain more.
That’s difficult because nothing so far has stuck out as a bad rule. Everything I do is apparently within the rules, so I haven’t had a run in with the policies or unfairness. The policies do seem to be working. The bases seem to be covered. I see groups of people congregating without masks, which is obviously wrong, I know there are rules, it’s just hard to enforce. From what I’ve seen and read, it seems like Indiana University is doing well considering our safety.
WISE Indiana Staff Contributors: Dr. Amber E. Osterholt & Aaron J. Zych, MPH