Any other year, incoming college freshmen would be filled with giddy anticipation at this very moment, counting down the weeks until they get to step on to their awaiting campus. They’d be making a packing list, trying to decide whether or not their beloved stuffed animal should make the journey to their dorm room or stay behind with their high school years. They’d be awkwardly chatting with their future roommates, comparing sleep schedules, asking about majors, and subtly trying to figure each other out.
While some 17 and 18-year-olds are doing that right now, many are not. Instead, they’re getting ready to buckle down for another semester of Zoom classes. They’re trying to imagine living under their parent’s roof for the next few months, instead of on the dorm floor like they planned. This semester, the coronavirus pandemic is forcing hundreds of thousands of college students to stay home.
Those who will be walking on to campus in less than a month’s time will be entering a world very different from that of their older classmates. Cafeterias are to-go only, football games have limited seating, and classrooms are lead by mask-wearing professors.
It’s hard to say which fate is better than the other and how this weird, dystopian-like semester will affect current college students as they continue their education and graduate into the outside world. I talked to multiple colleges and students about what fall 2020 will look like and how they will adapt.
“The first and foremost consideration is everybody’s health and safety,” said Rachel Schreiber, executive dean of Parsons School of Design. “When I say everybody, I mean everyone. Not only our students and our faculty who would come teach them, but all of the people that it will take to keep buildings open.”
Because of this, Parsons, which is a college of The New School located in Greenwich Village, has decided to conduct their classes online for the fall semester. This is an interesting decision given the nature of the majors and classes taught at Parsons—including fashion design, photography, and illustration—but Rachel doesn’t feel that online classes will disrupt learning too much.
“In many ways, what we teach is based a lot on making in the world of art and design and yet what I really think is the heart and soul of the Parsons education is the ingenuity and innovation of our faculty.” Rachel described ceramics courses that continued despite the upheaval back in the spring, when classes initially moved online. She also noted a professor of a pattern making class who made use of household items like oranges to teach her students how to draft a pattern that would create a sphere.
While Ana Rojas, an incoming junior at Parsons, understands why the choice to have another semester of online classes is necessary, she does feel it affects learning. “At least in the spring semester that finished a couple months ago, we did take a big hit education wise,” she said. “Our quality of education did decrease. Not at the school’s fault, but just how everything happened.” Because of this, Ana and her classmates are nervous for another semester of “lower quality education.”
Richard Edwards, who is heading the remote learning effort at University of California, Riverside disagrees that online learning is a less effective option.
“I have first-hand knowledge that online learning can be as impactful as in class instruction,” he said. “It is typically a matter of facilitating proper faculty development, investing in high quality faculty support services, and using the passion and engagement of faculty members that makes the biggest difference.”
UCR, specifically, will be implementing many programs to ensure their faculty is prepared for a semester of online teaching. Still, though, students are adamant that it’s just not the same.
“There are definitely some professors that don’t understand the difficulty that some people have at home learning,” said Angela Saha, incoming sophomore at UCR. “A lot of my friends have ADHD, they can’t focus and there are a lot of disruptions at home.”
On top of that, Angela stresses that not everyone has safe households where they can prioritize education and focus on their learning. “There are a lot of people that attend higher education or college to escape poverty or unhappiness at home. Not everyone has a happy home and they have to realize that.”
Iowa State University, meanwhile, will be adopting a hybrid learning plan. Their large lecture classes will be held online, supplemented by opportunities to meet for in-person small group sessions. Medium and small classes, as well as studios, capstones and team-based learning, will be taught in person. In a statement to Seventeen, Iowa State emphasized that they will be “utilizing safety measures” for all in-person classes. If a student feels more comfortable learning entirely remotely, they will be able “to work with their academic advisers to explore options.”
Abby Almanza, who will be a senior at Iowa State this fall, doesn’t mind online classes, so she may just opt to move as many of her classes online as possible. “I am a fan of online classes and integrating technology into education,” she said. “Besides, I have a dog so it’s nice that I can spend more time with my dog rather than being in class.”
Of course, there are some complications. Abby is majoring in elementary education, which means many of her classes require in-person learning. And then there is the issue of student teaching, which is a requirement for her major. Abby was hoping to spend her spring semester teaching in Poland, but it’s now unclear if that will be possible.
“I feel like I’m not getting all of the experiences that I was promised and I was expecting coming into college and being an elementary education major,” she admitted.
The college experience is about more than the classes you take, though those are extremely important. It’s about relationships with your professors and meeting people with the same drive, ambitions, and interests as you. It’s about simple things like studying for a chemistry exam in the quad and getting involved in on-campus protests. Even for those schools that are offering in-person learning this semester, those experiences are less plausible in the coronavirus environment.
On Tuesday, the Big Ten Conference, the oldest division one athletic conference, and the Pac-12 Conference announced they will be postponing the fall 2020-2021 sports season due to health and safety concerns. On Wednesday, the Big East Conference followed suit. As of now, the Big 12 Conference, in which Iowa State competes, is still planning to move ahead with the season.
“Our student-athletes want to compete, and it is the Board’s collective opinion that sports can be conducted safely and in concert with the best interests of their well-being,” Board of Directors Chairman and TCU Chancellor Victor Boschini said in a statement. “We remain vigilant in monitoring the trends and effects of COVID 19 as we learn more about the virus. If at any point our scientists and doctors conclude that our institutions cannot provide a safe and appropriate environment for our participants, we will change course.”
Iowa State has told Seventeen that if a student athlete tests positive for COVID, they will immediately be “isolated from all team activities and community members.” Iowa’s athletes have been returning to campus since June in order to “avoid an influx of student-athletes all returning at one time.” As for football games, which are very popular at Iowa State, the school’s Jack Trice Stadium will operate at 50% capacity. While at the stadium, attendees will be asked to social distance, wear face coverings, and use electronic ticketing systems in order to reduce the spread of the virus.
As a student ticket holder, Abby will be able to attend the games this fall, as will anyone with season tickets. As of now, the stadium will not be offering single-game tickets.
And if a student just so happens to contract COVID, universities have elaborate plans in place. At ISU, the Iowa Department of Public Health and Centers for Disease Control will do contact tracing and the ISU Public Health Team will notify the Department of Residence if the student lives on campus so precautions can be taken. There are rooms set aside for those who contract COVID in order to quarantine and isolate.
Despite all of this, the students are not discouraged.
“Honestly, I’m still just as excited,” said Madelyn Clemmons who will be attending Emerson College as a freshman in the fall. “It will be a different experience and it won’t be typical, but that will be exciting in itself to try to navigate.”
This generation of college students have already proven that they are extremely adaptable. When the world shut down, they went to TikTok to socialize and create. When the Black Lives Matter Movement erupted, they took to the internet and the streets to make it the largest civil rights movement the world has ever seen. Now that the coronavirus is keeping them from having a quintessential fall semester, they’ll make the most of that too.
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