Can you describe your response to UNCW, and the UNC System administration’s decision, to bring students back on campus and have in-person classes?
When the school sent us the email that we were going back to school, I was nervous because I am at high risk and I felt more comfortable being at home with my family during this unprecedented time. We’re all going through something that no generation has gone through before and I wanted to stay home, but I realized it wasn’t a choice because a lot of my classes aren’t offered completely online. I’m a senior so there are some time constraints. If I want to graduate in spring then I have to take classes that could possibly put me at risk to contract the coronavirus. For example, I am taking a one credit physical education class because otherwise I would be off by one credit and I can only take it this semester. I had to take it and I thought it would be fine and that everything would be okay. But the first day we went outside, and the teacher told us to take our masks off. I squished myself against the wall because I’m not trying to be near anyone. We were very close together and I was getting nervous. I couldn’t even focus on the class because I had to focus on being away from other people. Almost everyone else was shoulder to shoulder as if they’d reverted to our old habits. They were so desensitized. There was even a student in the class that said, “Well if I say I’m not feeling well, and I’ve been around people with the coronavirus can I go home?” That person had just breathed in my face not even a few seconds prior because he walked past me. I had a little panic moment because we were working out and breathing pretty hard. I couldn’t believe it happened and then I went home and immediately cleaned myself.
I thought we would shut down like NC State and UNC-Chapel Hill and I’m honestly very surprised that UNCW is still having in-person classes. I thought that we would have pivoted online by now; possibly leaving the rooms accessible but certainly not having that face-to-face instruction. I do want to say that I think the professors have adapted very well. They seem to understand that everything is very chaotic right now and the pandemic has affected us all in different ways. Now, if we do happen to pivot, I hope it’s sooner rather than later because I like to have my schedule figured out, so I can understand what’s going on academically. Now, I live in a life of limbo.
Does being in “limbo” create more stress in your life?
Right now I’m living by the quote “It is what it is.” I’m an overachiever and extremely extra, so being able to have a face-to-face connection with the teachers is something I would always choose before online classes. I feel more comfortable if I have concerns or issues I can go and talk to them and they can get to know the real me. They can get to see that I want to do my best and I can show them I understand the information. Now, there are a lot of classes that you might never meet the professor. I’m so glad I chose professors I had in the past for this semester because hopefully they still remember who I am, my work ethic, and realize that I am trying. I’m trying in a situation that no one is 100% at. I feel for the students that are either new, incoming freshmen, or people that will only get to know their professors over Zoom.
How do you respond to the university’s position that the, almost exponential rise of Wilmington COVID-19 cases since UNCW reopened campus to students, is primarily the responsibility of students and a failure to comply with CDC guidelines?
That’s kind of harsh to say because it’s not that students aren’t trying. There’s always going to be those few people that simply are just not going to wear a mask and abide by the rules because they’re not someone who would, or maybe they have conspiracies against COVID-19. I also think people are saying “Well, you’re young. You’re not going to die of it.” That might be the case, but you also can easily spread it. It could get back to your parents who you go see on the weekends or maybe your older professors or friend that has a condition but never told anyone. The thing is, right now it’s more important to care for other people. Caring for someone who might be at high risk. Someone else could have a life-threatening issue. They might be the perfect candidate to get COVID-19 and have a healthy recovery and then not recover well.
Recently with the university having the freshman move out of their dorms and either live somewhere else on-campus or go home and to also not have them tested before they move, makes them easy targets. Additionally, there’s not much of a choice to take online classes unless you’re taking a lot of Gen-Eds. The emails frustrate me, but I see how the university is equally as frustrated about the situation and trying to make the best decisions. But maybe these decisions are coming from fear of incurring debt if they send people back home and how UNCW will do in the future if they send people home.
As someone who is at a higher risk of responding negatively to COVID-19, do you feel that the university is handling the pandemic in a responsible, efficient way? Do you think they have your best interest in mind?
A while back I made a joke, which really wasn’t a joke. It was sadder than anything. I said, “You know, UNCW has been working for months, but all I see are stickers on the floor”. There are a few lawn signs in the ground and some hand sanitizer and sanitary wipes, but other than that I don’t really see what the university has done. I ride a bike to school, and I leave my mask off when no one is around, but once I start merging onto a sidewalk and see someone, I immediately put it on. No one else puts their mask on. They just look at me as if I’m the odd one out when there are signs all around saying we all need to wear masks. It’s so confusing because in the initial emails the University said that you don’t need a mask when you’re outside, which makes sense, but then you think about the high foot traffic. There are a lot of instances where you can’t be six feet apart for whatever reason. It makes me uncomfortable. I’ve been disappointed but also not surprised. I probably wouldn’t have let students come back to campus. I guess they wanted to see how it would play out and I don’t think it played out very well. If the university put all classes online I would feel a weight off of my chest because I come home every day and shower head to toe- not that that does anything to prevent the virus but it’s the only thing that makes me feel like I’m safe. I immediately changed out of all my clothes. I don’t know if doing that lessened the possibility of getting COVID-19 or I have just been lucky not to come into contact with anyone who has it.
I do think the university is doing its best to keep students on campus, but I want to know up until what specific point they are willing to do that. Where do they draw the line? I’ve talked to a lot of people who live off campus. They’re contracting COVID-19 and not reporting to the University because they’ve been going out, are connected to Greek life, or don’t see the point because they are quarantining at their own apartment. Our numbers aren’t even the right numbers because we’re underreporting.
I’ve heard a lot of people saying they feel that the university is making them choose between their education and their health. How do you respond to that statement?
I feel like that statement comes from a place of anger, maybe at the university, but also at the situation because no one knows how to handle this pandemic. However, it’s hard to be a student here and be told you don’t get to choose what classes are hybrid, online, or completely in-person. If I could take all my classes on Zoom, even though that is a choice I would never want to. I would do that for the sake of my health, my family’s health and the health of everyone around me. I am also forcing myself not to become desensitized. It’s hard because we’re trying to live normally in a world that is going through a pandemic, which is so sad if you think about it. We are normalizing living in a pandemic. We have to realize that it’s not anyone’s specific fault and it’s unfair to tell students that they could have chosen to be fully online when that might work if you’re a freshman and haven’t decided on your path of life yet. Freshmen can take this year to get certain Gen-Eds out of the way, but upperclassmen are on a path. It’s unfair to say we had a choice because a lot of people would find it difficult to come back to school if they took time off. Also, people who receive scholarships and grants or some type of financial help can’t just stop going to school because it reflects negatively on them. It’s beyond a simple choice of whether a student chooses to be fully online. Every student has to evaluate if it’s realistic for their situation. The University saying we all had a choice is not realistic. No one has any control right now.
Right now, which it almost feels like I’m doing double the work; one of my teachers asked how everyone is feeling in the first week of school. A lot of us were feeling uneasy, so I raised my hand and said “You know I have a lot of these hybrid classes and most of them are front heavy because they’re scared that they will not have any more time with us.” I feel like I’m having almost two to three times the work just because they want to see us in class to really get that in-person connection. They are assuming that we would have been out of face-to-face classes right now and most of my teachers start the day by saying, “Well, I guess we’re still here.” It’s a constant negative viewpoint, and that’s why I think it’s really hard. If we’re going to pivot online I would rather do it sooner than later because I would love to have that weight of getting the coronavirus and myself at risk to be diminished and have a little more control. At least I know I’m not going to get it from going to college.
So was there a specific instance that stuck out to you with what the University or the administration, whether it’s positive or negative, that you had a strong emotional reaction to?
I think I’m actually underwhelmed with everything they’ve done. I go to school like three days a week which was normal before, so nothing has changed for me. I was also upset the day the University sent the email that we would be having in-person classes. My family was upset too. They were hoping I would get to stay home; back in March when we originally left my dad told me “It makes me feel much more comfortable knowing your back home during this uncertainty.” When I had to leave under even more uncertain times, he was very distraught.
I’m surprised that no one was tested before we arrived. All my other friends at different universities have been. Here no one gets regularly tested and initially, we had to pay for COVID-19 testing. I’m surprised we haven’t done much, but I’m not a part of the board. I’m not a part of the team members that are in charge of planning. There are probably things I just haven’t known about so it’s hard for me to be a hypocrite because if someone said, “Okay, well, what would you do?” I wouldn’t know how to answer.
In these uncertain times is there any advice you would like to give other students about how to destress and rebalance their mental state under the pressure of heightened stress?
As an already stressed-out person, I would have to say that you must be kind to yourself. We’re trying to work and hang out and do all these other tasks we did before COVID-19, forcing our previous lives onto the world we live in now and pretend like everything’s okay. We think we can do everything all at once and sometimes we just need to sit down because, ultimately, we can’t do everything. I know I’m getting mentally tired. I feel like I’m living in a world that’s putting different priorities ahead of a pandemic and I think we all need to sit back and take breaks. Also, just because we’re stuck in our houses, apartments, or dorms doesn’t mean we have to do work all the time. It’s not like “Oh well, I’m home so I should do all of this work.” that’s not fair to you. We used to leave our houses and hang out with friends we hadn’t seen in a while or find ways to have fun with other people because we deserved time to center ourselves. Now we’re constantly in a single room or library and we need to realize we can’t only view our space as a work area but also as a place we can relax in. Just be kind to yourself.