A Year of Zoom University – The School the Whole World Turned to, but No One Wanted to Attend.

A Year of Zoom University – The School the Whole World Turned to, but No One Wanted to Attend.

Kelly Pease
Editorial Contributor

“I just got off the phone with my friend from Johns Hopkins--he said that he thinks all schools will be sent home within the next week because of the coronavirus.” This is what I heard from my professor on March 5th, 2020 as I waited for dinner with my group of friends at the Hoop Dee Do Review in Orlando, after spending the most amazing week on a customer experience management tour at Walt Disney World. The entire week felt like a dream that was too good to be true. Little did we know, we were about to have a rude awakening, as college as we knew it was about to be turned upside down.

My friends and I all looked at each other. Immediately, we began to wonder, “what about graduation?” Our spirits, once so high on the Disney magic, fell, but we continued on with our evening. Nothing had happened yet, but it stayed in the back of our minds.  

I arrived back on campus a few days later. My roommates and I shared stories with each other about our spring breaks. One had been in Europe, while the others went home to different states all over the country. We were already hearing buzz about students not being allowed back on campus after being exposed to a virus at a political event in Washington, DC. I told my friends what my professor had said, but they said, “there is no way we’ll get sent home!” 

I started class that week with a gut feeling that my professor was right. Things felt off--there was something the professors were not telling us. Sure enough, on Tuesday night, we got an email that we had to be off campus by Friday. The email said it would only be for two weeks, but I had a feeling it was more serious than they were letting on. One of my friends messaged me that she was worried about her older parents trying to drive from Boston to pick her up in Baltimore. She did not want to expose them to the virus, so she asked if I would drive back with her. First thing Wednesday morning, I threw a backpack into the back of her car and we were off. My roommates and I had one late night dinner at Denny’s the night before, but none of us even really said goodbye. We had no idea what the next year of our lives had in store.

I got home and soon the rest of my family followed. All 6 of us were taking up different parts of the house on Zoom calls for high school, college, and work. We had to be strategic about our placement, between not wanting to show embarrassing childhood bedroom wall colors, needing to be far enough apart so we could have a quiet space to focus and not distract each other, and having a good Wifi connection. I missed walking to the coffee shop on campus on a Sunday morning to grab my venti iced coffee and spinach feta wrap, followed by hours of sitting in the student center doing work with other college students. I missed walking home to my apartment while catching up with my roommates about their days while we laughed and got ready to watch a bad movie. I missed the freedom, structure, and routine of being on campus. I missed the opportunity to spend more time with the great new friends I had just made on the spring break trip. It was one thing to miss the comforts of the life I knew, but as a college senior in the spring, there was a double layer of sadness knowing that I would never get to experience any of those things again. I would not get to have dining hall food one more time, see the concert on the quad in the spring, or even just go to classes in person one last time. All of the lasts were suddenly normal days that I didn’t even realize were my last times.  

Even as someone who loved my classes and always strived to be the best student I could be, I found myself struggling to stay focused because suddenly our course material did not feel so important. Some teachers were very understanding and lightened our workloads, while others seemed to make courses more challenging, thinking that the time at home gave us more time to do assignments. We were distracted by the news and chaos that we had involuntarily been spun into. The mental toll of it all made it hard to do anything. I remember not being able to eat much and throwing up a lot for unexplainable reasons the first few weeks of the lockdown. At the time I didn’t know why it was happening, but looking back, I recognize that it was probably caused by anxiety. I think I was in shock and hadn’t really processed what was going on. I’m still not sure I have. 

Even now it is weird writing this, because as I sit here reflecting, we are still in the midst of online learning and work. One week after finals and sad online ceremonies to acknowledge that we were done with our undergraduate experience, I was fortunate to start a temporarily remote position at Christie Campus Health. As I check in with siblings and friends still in school, I can only imagine what they are going through. Online school was challenging enough during the first few months when we had much higher spirits about the lockdown and it felt fun to count the days while trying new indoor activities for which we never previously had time. Now over a year into staring at screens and limited social interactions beyond close family, things feel stale. Many students were so excited to be back on campus again, but with masks and restrictions, their beloved campuses are not the places they left last March, and most of their time is spent alone. Time with others is tainted by fear of the virus, masks, or worry that if more people show up they could get in trouble or sent home. There is barely anything to do, and any hope of just getting through until a long weekend or break is gone, because most holidays and breaks are cancelled for safety reasons. My sister, who was used to traveling for track meets most weekends with friends, said that school now feels more like prison. Other students didn’t feel comfortable going back to campus and are still learning at home, disconnected from the campus community. College during Covid-19 is a completely different picture than what you would expect college to be.

It is more important than ever to ensure that college students have support and resources. Once things start to go back to normal, students will probably start to come out of the shock, “fighter/keep going” mode, and begin to really process their experiences. That is when that second pandemic--the mental health pandemic--is predicted to start. Prior to the pandemic, college campuses were already in a mental health crisis. Now, college presidents are citing supporting student mental health as one of their top concerns. We know that many college counseling centers are already overrun, understaffed and/or overworked. More mental health resources and options for students not only help the students thrive, but can also help the school thrive. To learn more about how Christie Campus Health can help support your campus community, visit https://www.christiecampus.com/our-solution today. 

These times have been a challenge, but we will get through and be stronger than ever before.

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