Students express dejection, uncertainty, optimism in face of permanent virtual semester
After learning the news that Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross would not be returning to campus for the remainder of the semester due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, students across the tri-campus community reacted with a variety of emotions to the knowledge that seniors would lose their last memories on campus and others would be separated from their respective campuses for months.
Saint Mary’s senior Katy Stalter has been attempting to manage her time away from her friends, room and campus since she first heard that students would not be returning to campus. Stalter said she is shocked she won’t be able to complete her senior year on the campus she called home for four years.
When she received the email, Stalter said she immediately thought, “I need to text my group message with all of my best friends and tell them that I love them.”
With the decision to halt in-person classes for the rest of the semester — announced a week after a notice to suspend in-person classes for 4 weeks at the three institutions — Notre Dame senior Sam Jones said he originally thought he might have the chance to live on campus as a student once more. However, Jones quickly realized the possibility of returning was slim.
“I liked the idea that we were going to pause and wait two weeks and then come back and reevaluate, so I was kind of disappointed that we didn’t end up doing that,” Jones said. “But at the same time, I was not surprised by the ultimate decision since other colleges were canceling for the rest of the semester.”
Holy Cross junior Rylee Horn said in a text that although she would not be able to spend the rest of the semester with her friends, she understood why the decision was made.
Although the majority of students have returned home, their belongings remain on campus. Jones, a resident assistant in Stanford Hall, said he does not know what move out will look like but hopes to have it as a chance to say goodbye to his section mates.
“I’d like to see all my guys, and I know it probably won’t happen, but I’d like to help them move out just to get closure,” Jones said.
Stalter also said she she’s concerned about graduation with her fellow seniors in May, but she remains hopeful.
Unlike students in residence halls, off-campus students face a different situation: stay in their current housing or pack up and return to their hometown. Notre Dame senior Nina Leutz decided to choose the latter option.
“Some of my friends not many, but some of them, are staying in their off-campus houses, but there’s nothing to do in South Bend since everything is closing,” Leutz said.
Accepting online courses and virtual learning
Some students believe the transition to online classes will leave them with a smaller set of tools to assist them with their education.
“Normally I learn better face to face and hands-on, so I’m thinking the change to online classes will affect me in some way, but I’m not sure exactly how yet,” Notre Dame freshman Milena Fava-Pastilha said.
Stalter said she anticipates working from home to be a difficult adjustment because she’s used to spending time away from school to relax with her family during breaks.
“I am struggling to find a routine that is always very easily pushed on me when I am on campus because of the set times of classes and numerous extracurriculars,” Stalter said.
Jessica Hardig, a Saint Mary’s junior, agreed saying the lack of routine makes it harder to find the motivation to complete her coursework.
“I also was just concerned about how my grades may slip doing all my work at home instead of my ideal study spots where I focus so well such as Reignbeaux or Trumper,” she said. “I did not feel very prepared, but knew it would have to be a switch that I got used to very fast.”
Some states like California and Illinois have mandated statewide orders to remain at home, which also poses concerns to students. Leutz, a native of the Chicago suburbs, said the lack of freedom to go into town is disappointing.
“It is going to be hard to have to stay in my house all day long since I can’t even go to a coffee shop or something to do work,” Leutz said.
Stalter said she is concerned about some of her classes that seem less conducive to the virtual setup, but her professors have been very reassuring throughout the uncertainty.
“This anxiety was definitely pushed aside after receiving emails from professors and reading how empathetic they are to us and the circumstances that we are in,” she said.
Stalter acknowledged how grateful she is for the professors working with students to learn how to orient their courses online.
“I truly have been able to recognize the hard work that my professors do and the amount of patience and love that they have for their students during times of distress,” she said.
Notre Dame junior Anna Wellen said though the current situation is unprecedented, she is prepared to adapt.
“It’s going to be a big adjustment with [all of my siblings and me] trying to do our online classes, but we did just upgrade our Wi-Fi, so hopefully we’ll have enough bandwidth to [do] all the Zoom classes,” Wellen said.
A new reality outside of the tri-campus community
With the novel COVID-19 disrupting not only the semester but also the proceedings of everyday life, seniors worry about the job offers they accepted for the summer or fall, juniors await the rescheduling of graduate school exams and undergraduates wonder if their summer internships will fall through.
While Jones has yet to worry about his personal post-graduation plans for next fall, he explained that he has seen stress in some peers in his senior class.
“All of a sudden, everyone in my class has come to the realization that a month ago, we were pretty confident with our post-grad plans and now there’s a chance of offers being rescinded,” Jones said.
Meanwhile, Wellen’s plan to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) in April will likely be postponed, but she said she is not too concerned, given that college students across the nation are dealing with the same circumstances.
“It’s probably getting pushed back, but that’s okay because I’ll just be able to study more, which I wasn’t able to do as much on campus due to my involvement with extracurriculars,” Wellen said.
For Fava-Pastilha, the severity of COVID-19 could potentially affect her summer as she was planning on interning in New York City.
“I don’t know what kind of effect this is going to have on my internship,” Fava-Pastilha said. “If this whole situation will last well into the summer, I might lose that opportunity.”
Horn said the disruption to the semester has also affected student preparations for the future.
“There has been a lot of struggles with the cancellations of in-person classes and activities, one of which is HCC’s student government association,” Horn said in a text. “We now have to resort to online meetings to prepare the incoming President and VP for the next school year.”
For many seniors, it is difficult to process how their final weeks have already come to a close.
“It is very hard to suddenly leave a place that you have called ‘home’ and return to the ‘home’ that you left many years ago,” Stalter said.
Despite the uncertainty, Leutz remains optimistic that she will be able to return to Notre Dame for a last farewell.
“I’m still hopeful that senior week still happens and that graduation still happens,” Leutz said.