Another pandemic semester

Nicole Yeager, Special Features Editor

Time flies when you’re stuck at home.

It is hard to believe that it’s been almost a year since the COVID-19 pandemic first jeopardized life at the University. Since University President John Bravman sent that first unforgettable email in March 2020, life — on-campus and off-campus — has been far from normal for all. As the spring semester rolls around, we are still in the midst of an unbridled pandemic — we are in another pandemic semester. Despite the countless hardships and moments of grief that COVID-19 continues to leave behind, one thing that can be said about the University community is that we are relentlessly adaptive and persevering.

Zoom-classroom

Depending on their personal circumstances, the style of the course material and the class size, professors have the choice to make their classes fully remote, fully in-person, or a hybrid of both styles. Now that we have a whole semester (and a bit more) of virtual learning behind us, we are all more adjusted and even forming some routines related to remote classes —and still, it is an ongoing learning process.

Professor of English Virginia Zimmerman shared her personal experience and anecdote on the realities of virtual learning, and how it plays into her role as an educator: “While I’m anxious to get back to in-person teaching, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how it is possible to cultivate a sense of community and have really lively discussions on Zoom. I feel I learned a lot during the summer session about how to do this and have continued to fine tune my pedagogy to ensure a robust learning experience,” Professor Zimmerman said.

The adjustment to remote education has been a journey full of stress, unexpected challenges, patience and constant learning and re-learning on all parts. Classrooms have transformed into Zoom screens. The boy who sits next to you in class has been replaced by a small, digital portal into his bedroom. Turning to a partner to discuss has turned into breakout rooms. Raising your hand in class is now unmuting yourself.

Throughout this journey, both students and professors alike have had to adapt and do a little extra leg-work to produce the level of learning that we all value. University professors across departments have entirely re-structured their courses and re-worked their style of teaching to match the level of the education they are used to providing. Students have re-learned how to learn and have altered their individual routines or ways of working to conform to this “new normal.” Both parties have transformed their bedrooms, living rooms, and even kitchens into classrooms.

Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies Erica Delsandro also shared a helpful tip she learned: “Sharing my own experiences teaching in a pandemic helped to facilitate an environment in which we could all be transparent and communicative about the impact COVID-19 has on our shared semester experience. Nearly every class last semester began with some sort of conversation about the newest dashboard numbers, mask wearing, Zoom fatigue, strategies for handling remote learning, etc. Did it take time away from instruction? Yes. Was it completely worthwhile, validating, and community building? Yes.”

Assistant Professor of English Chase Gregory echoed these sentiments: “This semester I at least feel a little more prepared than in previous pandemic semesters. The most useful thing I have discovered about teaching in COVID times is that the more transparency between teacher and students, the better. I try to regularly check in and adjust as necessary. We’re all being put through the wringer right now.”

Motionlessness

While we are all in this together as a community, the feelings of isolation and separation cannot be ignored. These feelings spread across not only individuals, but also class years. Seniors are likely feeling as if their last year, their last opportunities to make memories in college, have been taken away from them. For sophomores and juniors, they could be feeling like they are missing out on the best parts of their “best four years,” including a semester spent studying abroad. And lastly, first-year students, whose first time in college was just last semester, are likely feeling a lack of connection with others and a lack of development in themselves.

“It feels like a constant struggle of wanting to stay safe and follow quarantine protocols for the benefit of everyone, and wanting to be selfish and try to have the most normal last semester possible. It’s not a struggle anyone enjoys, it makes you constantly on edge and ultimately disappointed,” Olivia Zavrel ’21, as senior shared said.

Another group of students who might be feeling somewhat “new” to campus this semester are those who were home doing their semester fully remotely and those who deferred a semester. For these individuals, the change from “pre-COVID normal” to “COVID normal” probably feels much more drastic — the last time they saw the University, no one was wearing masks and all corners of campus were full of activity and movement.

Akil Atkins ’22 spoke to this: “Coming back to campus from being remote last semester has definitely been interesting to say the least, and I truly didn’t realize how much has changed from when I was last on campus in spring 2020.” He went on to describe a certain feeling of motionlessness that is another key issue of a pandemic semester. “I am involved in many different organizations at Bucknell so I am used to always being on the move around campus, however now with so much being remote I didn’t realize how sedentary I would be moving into this semester. However, I do appreciate the precautions that have been taken to keep students on campus, and I’m hoping that we can make it through the semester,” Atkins said.

Katelynne Schmidt ’22, who deferred last semester, summarized her initial feelings: “Being back on campus is everything I wanted it to be and everything I feared it would be,” Schmidt said. “I’m so thrilled to be surrounded by my friends, peers and faculty, but my heart breaks from the fact that that ‘surrounded-ness’ is experienced stuck behind a computer screen. And, even though I am grateful to be on campus again, I can’t help but be reminded of everything I miss so dearly when I’m confronted by its absence.”

Experiencing the experience

The college experience is more than just the education. We’ve all heard different variations of this saying, and we are all learning that it rings true through these four years. On campus, students are involved in athletics, student government, clubs/organizations related to their interests, affinity-based housing, Greek life, various jobs and so much more. A unique assortment of these activities make up each individual student’s life at the University — and all of these activites have been touched by the pandemic. Organizations have been moved to Zoom, clubs have fallen short and, most importantly, close connections or relationships have been interrupted.

Despite all of this, it is inspiring to see the ways in which we have all adapted and persevered in this challenging period. Each member of our dynamic community has, in some part, shaped the “pandemic experience” at the University. And, in a way, this shows our strength: our ability to build community in the worst of times.

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