Spring semester can best be summed up as an aberration. Instead of being out enjoying 90-degree weather with friends and soaking up information in the last two months of school, students are at home avoiding a pandemic.
Although some states are determining a proper time to reopen the economy, 43 states, including California, have either “ordered” or “recommended” that schools stay closed for the rest of the academic year. Because of the lack of information on COVID-19, it remains to be seen if schools will be closed for the fall as well.
However, some incoming USC students like Daniel Green, a future graduate student at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, said his decision would be based on how healthcare professionals treat COVID-19.
“As of right now, I’m not too optimistic that we are going to be able to hold classes next semester,” Green said. “I was supposed to start this summer, but the college gave me a chance to postpone my enrollment due to COVID-19.”
Green believes that paying so much for online classes is “pointless,” as part of a tuition are the perks that come with being on campus, especially as a journalism student who typically spends most of their day in a newsroom.
Another incoming student, Regan Kretz, said online classes are more “exhausting” than attending classes on campus. Kretz, an incoming freshman studying environmental studies, said that the entire situation is more “stressful” than waiting for college decisions.
“I should be excited for college right now, but more than anything, I am just nervous and worried that it will not start out as planned and I will be missing out on so much of the freshman experience that I have waited so long for,” Kretz said in an email.
Like Kretz, Laylah Fairley, a rising junior studying architecture, said she’s willing to come to campus because it’s a main part of her college experience.
“Campus is a safe space for a lot of people so of course it makes sense to return,” Fairley said in an email.
She also said that taking online classes for her major has “been awful,” and the pandemic is taking a toll on her and her friends.
To keep her mind right, she uses meditation apps like “Headspace,” and goes on frequent walks, and does light workout routines like online yoga.
These students acknowledge that being in the right headspace is important, especially in this time of social distancing. However, being at home could have some negative side effects.
“So then you take a bunch of students off of campus in their home communities without that structure and that peer support, professor support, dean’s, counselors, and it can be really difficult to maintain that motivation,” Dr. Nathaan Demers said.
Demers is a clinical psychologist and the vice president and director of clinical programs with Grit Digital Health - a health and fitness company in Colorado that uses behavioral health and technology to develop apps and other services.
Demers believes it’s important to have both in-person support as well as prevention-based platforms to ensure students have access to resources to manage stress and anxiety in the present. That way, they can avoid the development of more “clinically significant symptoms.”
“With that, it’s more important than ever to deploy those and really get them in the hands of students so that they can use it on campus," he said. “These tools really have to be very nimble.”
As colleges grapple with the decision of reopening schools, there are some students who are choosing not to go back to campus. Isabella Morcote, a freshman at USC, said she doesn’t plan on going back because there is no vaccine.
“Having students back on campus will heighten the chance of exposing us to COVID-19,” Morcote said in an email. She also said her family’s well-being is her primary focus.
“It would take a vaccine and for the situation to get better to get me back on campus,” she said.
Morcote also feels that online classes are fine “temporarily.” But as a music major, a full semester or year of online classes won’t do.
“The quality of my education would not be the same online as it would be in-person,” she concluded.
Lilit Yengoian, a sophomore majoring in neuroscience, believes that providing students with face masks and more hand-sanitizer stations around campus would be a “good idea.” Yengoian is also willing to come back to campus in the fall because she said it’s “very difficult” learning at home.
“Learning is also a very collaborative process and online classes limit our ability to study with our friends and classmates,” she said in an email. “Especially for classes that have a lot of hands-on components, such as labs, learning online is nowhere near the actual experience.”
For the time being, online learning is the norm. But considering how “Zoom fatigue” – the feeling of tiredness, anxiousness or worry with yet another video call – is a tangible concern, online learning is not a viable option in the long term.
Another sophomore at USC, Kiera Smith, is willing to go back to campus if the number of people who have the virus “lowered significantly.” Smith said any decision made has to have the student body in mind.
“Whether that be through taking precautions, like hiring more janitors on staff just to wipe down everything or having teacher protocols where students have to wipe down surfaces when they leave or wear masks, whatever it may be,” Smith said.
As everything shifted online at the drop of a hat, one of the casualties of the switch was commencement. Once a time of immense pride, commencement now represents what could have been for the Class of 2020 as all in-person commencement activities have been postponed.
Instead of being with friends and professors, graduating students will be at home, getting their degree through a virtual ceremony. However Shivaan Kulanathan, a second year graduate student at USC, is “indifferent” about the situation, even though he was set to graduate.
“I will most likely just go about the day as a regular day,” he said in an email. Kulanathan said his level of excitement is “low” because the pandemic has left him wondering how things will progress in the future but not in an “optimistic way.”
With everything going on, Demers, the vice president at Grit Digital Health, said the best thing to do is be flexible and stop “trying to predict the future.”
“Our brains are constantly trying to protect from threat and that’s why we’re always thinking about what’s going to happen and [the] worst-case scenario,” Demers said. “We have to do our best to tame that because the reality is that nobody knows what it’s going to be like.”