As the cherry blossoms are in the midst of their annual spring quarter bloom, there’s no one around to enjoy them. Students can imagine what they might look like now, but the thought of an empty campus is hard to put in the picture.
Nori Marines-Espinoza, a first-year student, did not expect her freshman year of college to end up like this.
“My first week was a rough start because this is my first time doing online school,” she said in an email. However, she did share some optimism, “I am starting to grow from it and learn a lot more than I even knew I could.”
Espinoza said that she was looking forward to making more friends during spring quarter, so she is sad that Zoom doesn’t provide that same opportunity.
Adam Rollins, a third-year student majoring in mathematics, said that he did not have the best start to this quarter, but he still is appreciative for some of the benefits that Zoom provides.
“All of my professors post Zoom recordings to Canvas, which allows students to view lectures at different times than scheduled,” Rollins said. “I have had many classes in the past where I wish this had been an option.”
Rollins, like Espinoza, also misses the face-to-face interactions.
“I am not able to work with other students as easily over Zoom to figure out difficult concepts,” he said.
Rollins is much more familiar with classroom learning than online learning. “I have been conditioned since kindergarten to go to a classroom to learn, so being on campus feels more natural,” he said.
He said to keep in mind that although people hear about people fighting over toilet paper, the majority of people have been helping each other out. “The limited interactions I have had with strangers during this time have been friendly and pleasant. I think most people realize we are all experiencing the same inconveniences so there is a little more empathy than normal.”
As students are coping with this change, Western professors are in this learning process, too.
Dean Wright, a journalism professor at Western, said in an email that preparing the syllabus before classes started was the hardest part for him.
“It was harder than I expected to make decisions about which parts of the course could make a smooth transition from a face-to-face class to a remote learning environment,” Wright said. “Deciding which parts of a course syllabus to include and which to leave out is a bit like deciding which of your children you love the most.”
Although it has been a struggle at times, Wright expressed gratitude toward his students and their creativity and acknowledges some of the benefits that online school provides. “[Online learning] forces a person to develop and use time management skills, which are important to succeeding in life,” Wright said.
On the downside, he does miss the in-class discussions, saying that it’s harder to gauge the reactions of students via Zoom. For tips on online classes, he recommends keeping a schedule and for students and professors to dress as they would for campus to help them get into the “teaching zone” and “learning zone.”
Anne Marie Thieler, a licensed mental health counselor at Western, reminds us that the counseling center is still open for students. She said it is important to note that even though people are distanced, the community is in this together.
“The first thing to remember is that even though we are physically separated, we are part of a collective in our efforts to minimize the lethality of the pandemic,” Thieler said.
Although the response to COVID-19 has been focused on physical health implications and efforts to limit the spread of the disease, it is important to note the mental health implications as well. “Immediate emotional impacts include stress, anxiety, fear, helplessness and grief,” she said.
“The other part of that collective effort is to find ways to continue to connect,” Thieler said. “Take extra effort to reach out to friends online, discover new skills or hobbies that you can share with others, explore new ways to virtually connect and make it a priority to support those you care about.”
Ellen Walker, a psychologist who has her own private practice in Fairhaven, said she has been receiving many calls from students lately, so students shouldn’t feel alone in their feelings.
“Students that seem to be doing better are letting themselves be incorporated into their family life,” Walker said.
Walker explains that it is probably not a college student’s first choice to be spending so much time with their family, but that the connection does help to feel less lonely during the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order..
“Don’t minimize any genuine sadness that you have about this,” Walker said. “That is totally legitimate sadness.” She suggested having a support group right now and being open with your vulnerabilities, as sharing can make others feel less alone.
“None of us are dealing with this perfectly, of course,” Walker said.
As the Western community gets more into the swing of things, we are learning how to deal with the pandemic together with hope for things to return to normal in the fall, never again taking the joys of being on campus for granted.
The Counseling Center is still here for students in need. They can be reached between 9 and 4 at 360-650-3164 and have transitioned to online counseling services through video-conferencing and phone support. They have continued their Wellness Wednesday series online (https://counseling.wwu.edu/workshops).