After over a year of transitioning to Zoom as the new normal for meetings and classes, how has social distancing changed the college landscape?

Students like junior Izzy Lazlinger said that COVID has affected her motivation to go to class and get work done. According to Lazlinger, if a class offers hybrid attendance, she is more likely to attend using Zoom than in person, because going to class in person can feel like an unneeded risk when classes are still online. Lazlinger also stated that she feels like it takes more energy to make herself attend classes than before the pandemic, and that sometimes she just doesn’t have any motivation to go. Lazlinger said that the state of the world has left her feeling less hopeful for the future than before the pandemic, which could contribute to deteriorated mental health in students.

Although some students are feeling more stressed during the pandemic, Brian Quigley, Executive Director of the Wellness Center, hasn’t seen a noticeable increase in students seeking help for their mental health. However, there has been indication that students already suffering from mental health issues have seen an increase in the severity of their symptoms. Quigley provided the following statement when asked if the Wellness Center had seen more cases of students seeking counseling since COVID began:

“It is relevant first to highlight the context that students at KSC have historically accessed counseling supports at high rates already (e.g., 18% of all enrolled students sought services in Academic Year 18/19), which is a positive indicator of accessibility, comfort seeking support amongst KSC students, and decreased stigma. Following the onset of COVID-19 in the Spring Semester of 2020, the subsequent Fall 2020 Semester was highly atypical for counseling service delivery/ demand due to the major changes made to college operations to enable having a semester. As a result, data from AY20/21 are not representative and not useful to report. For the current Fall 2021 Semester, there has not been a higher than average number of students seeking support; however, several indicators suggest a slightly higher utilization of services related to significantly greater severity and acuteness of symptoms for these students seeking counseling.”

For junior Caitlin McCracken, the struggle during this semester has been due to stress over schoolwork and trying to adapt to the lack of support for hybrid classes. When asked what the most pressing thing on her mind had been recently, she responded, “The lack of time to complete all of the assignments being thrown at students before the holidays and on top of our finals.” McCracken also had grievances with professors who were less accommodating with online accessibility to classes. “Zoom was always an option during the Spring 2020 semester and now professors are not always allowing it to be an option when necessary for students.”

Although some students feel that the college community’s response to COVID has been rocky, there are professors who feel that Keene State has handled the change well, and that students have shown resilience in the face of the challenge. Niall Moran, a Sociology professor, said, “I think if we talk about an overall picture, one of the things that’s come out of this is really remarkable stories of resilience amongst our students and amongst our faculty and amongst our staff. We’re working in a high risk kind of environment and students are living in a relatively high risk environment, and I’ve been really happy to see what the response was from students. Overall, all of the things that the college has required, students have been really good, whether it’s testing, masking, not gathering in large groups, our numbers have been really good, and to me that suggests resilience.”

Moran also mentioned that while attendance in-person was lower when he was offering a hybrid option, now that he has switched back to fully in-person classes, attendance and participation have gone back up. “Most of the issues that I found were when we were doing hybrid classes. So half the class on zoom, half the class in the classroom. I think there was a predisposition for everyone to move onto Zoom just for whatever reason the students had. And then you would only have maybe three, four, five students in the class, depending on the class size, and that was certainly demoralizing, from my perspective when you’re coming in to teach and people weren’t there,” Moran said. “But that aside I made a decision this semester not to use Zoom, so my attendance has been much, much better because students don’t have that Zoom option.”

Instead of giving students the option to Zoom in, Moran has his students make up missed classes in the traditional way. He said, “Throughout my career at Keene State, students have missed classes because of various different reasons, and historically you made those classes up by attending office hours, by getting the notes from someone in the class, or getting the notes from the professor. So when students have missed time because of COVID, I try to work with them to find alternative means to make up the class, because the sense was instead if I offered Zoom, then everyone wants the Zoom link, and then we lose that face to face.”

Moran also brings up the point that students are paying a large amount of money to have classes in person, and to get the communal experience of college. He stated that with the safety protocols we already have in place, there is no reason that we can’t safely return to face-to-face classes.

 

Gabe Schatz can be contacted at gschatz@kscequinox.com

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