Campus during COVID: how has the college experience changed?

Grand Valley State University, like many other campuses across the state, has seen a rise in COVID cases since students returned to school.

Grand Valley State University, like many other campuses across the state, has seen a rise in COVID cases since students returned to school.

Riley Coesens, Editor in Chief

Schools nationwide have undergone numerous changes to ensure the safety of students, staff, and families while also trying to transition as much normalcy into the altered classroom experience as possible. Districts, based on location and available resources and staffing, have moved studies purely online or have adapted with a hybrid format, allowing students minimal interaction with peers; how has this type of environment been embraced at the collegiate level? For the State of Michigan specifically, Governor Gretchen Whitmer has implemented recommended policies regarding cleanliness, distancing, and contactless means of learning for classrooms across the state to adhere to, but for those residing on campus, some of these regulations have created challenges. As anxious students apprehensively return to the academic rigor of pre-COVID, the hardships–and opportunities–presented for colleges abandoning traditional methods of amplifying student life on campus have multiplied, and the students are surely noticing it every day. 

Just one of the many requests made of students on campus this fall is to wear masks outside (walking to/from class) as well as inside all buildings. Social distancing is encouraged in every space possible, and students at some schools, like Grand Valley State University, submit students to daily self-assessments; in addition to the assessments, students at GVSU, as well as Central Michigan University and many others, select students for testing and offer free tests on campus. “CMU has restrictions on the number of people in a classroom. You have to wear a mask except when you’re in a dorm room or outside, no overnight guests from outside CMU, and no frat parties, and we get free testing,” CMU Freshman Alexis Camilleri explained. GVSU Freshman Brenden Coesens also shared that amenities, such as meal plan options and fraternity/sorority opportunities have been severely limited compared to years prior. Additionally, after nearly 500 cases had been present at the time, Grand Valley announced a “soft lockdown” in which students were not permitted to leave the community from September 17th through Oct. 1. Coesens added, “GV and Ottawa County put everyone on campus into a ‘soft lockdown’ where we aren’t supposed to leave our rooms except to go eat, go learn, or go to the doctors.” These are just some of the social aspects that have changed for the incoming freshmen stationed on campus. 

Meeting new people and creating memories away from home are two of the most important parts of gaining independence for emerging young adults who have gone away to college. Besides limited conversations and study sessions with classmates, students this fall have lost out on many past opportunities to make new friends or participate in social activities. Camilleri shared, “COVID has made college a little harder to meet people. My brother says freshman year you meet friends at football games and tailgates mainly, so you can only really meet people from your dorm or classes.” Michigan State University Freshman Abbie Kozel, who is currently taking virtual classes through MSU from home, has also noticed the reduced interactions between students: “College interactions are definitely different in the sense that you meet people from all over the country; however, it is kind of hard to make friends since you can’t go out and meet people,” she said. “A lot of group chats [have been] made, which is nice.” Even returning students, like GVSU Junior Abby Adams, realize the strain that such limited chances to be involved in-person with others has had detrimental impacts on the bonds made among students. “With most things being online, hanging out with people is a lot harder, especially with the main social events like campus nightlife and sporting events being canceled,” she said. The biggest issue that students have noticed that many choose not to comply with, however, is the mask policy or proper measures at various parties; according to each person interviewed, the major roadblock to maintaining proper awareness and protection regarding COVID has been with parties; though some are more cautious or avoid them altogether, others see them as one of the few remaining social opportunities to interact with one another. 

In a different way, students attending college this fall have achieved a new level of independence regarding their academics and study habits; with many schools offering most of their courses online, self-structured learning and proper education habits must be executed by the students in order to succeed. Kozel explained, “Online classes are a lot more driven by self-motivation and some of my classes don’t even have scheduled class time, so you [have to] schedule accordingly when you want to do your work.” One of the major struggles students face normally, let alone when they are left to their own devices to process and retain subject material, is procrastination. The lack of an instructor’s consistent presence and guidance in-person makes the issue that much more significant. “The classes are almost all online, making it difficult to reach out to professors with issues, and it is harder to schedule meeting times in order to get help,” Adams stated. “Also, the classes in-person are shortened, and getting to know other people isn’t really an option–procrastination always seems to hit hard.”

The pandemic has certainly modified the “normal” that everyone–including students of all ages–has had to deal with, but it is long from over; at Grand Valley, for example, both Adams and Coesens expressed concern about the future of in-person classes at all, let alone staying at campus going forward. GVSU has already made the decision to go completely virtual for exams this semester, as many in-state professors across Michigan are wary that full classroom normalcy will return until mid-2021; “I think going forward that as cases increase, they are eventually going to be more strict on people gathering and eventually probably have everything go 100% online, which will happen after Thanksgiving,” Adams said. Coesens agreed: “I think we are in for a rough ride considering how the county reacted to the news of GV having so many cases,” he stated. Others have a more positive attitude toward the future of their in-person studies, however; Kozel understands that though the current situation is not ideal, that people are doing their best to adapt and support each other’s endeavors. “I think MSU is doing the most they can to minimize the spread of COVID, while I’m not happy about not being able to live on campus I understand the risk,” she said. “There isn’t really much we can do in the situation so everyone is making do with what was given to us.”