Our college lives are only a small percentage of what they used to be. With the advent of a global pandemic, people were asked to stay inside in hopes of decreasing the spread of the virus and limiting the number of people admitted to the hospital. With the growing number of positive results came a growing number of people suffering with anxiety. For the majority of 2020, we have lived in a world surrounded by death, isolation, fear and uncertainty. Nothing is the same, but the one common concern is when this will all end. Everyone is trying to make everything go back to normal again, and at the front of this are the college campuses all over America. No matter how hard colleges try, college life is not the same and the mental health of students is only suffering.
I made the choice to return to campus at the University of Connecticut and I do not regret it. That being said, living at UConn right now has made me realize all that the coronavirus pandemic has changed, with the biggest change being the fact that about ¾ of students don’t live on campus right now. As was expected, you need to wear a mask everywhere. Buildings now have signs warning people to not come inside if they are sick, there are arrows for people to follow and circles on the ground determining where people can stand. In classrooms, there are seats labeled for students to use and in the larger rooms, seating is limited.
When I walk through this campus, I am only reminded of how it used to be …. Crowds of students walking in any direction, every building filled as students walked to and from class, not being able to go one day without seeing somebody I knew and stopping to talk with them. Now, you see a few people, but the campus is mostly empty. Events are all virtual, and even the ones the university has planned are mimicked with limitations. Social life is limited by fear of getting caught, and right now, tailgate season is not occurring. When getting meals from the dining halls, you can either eat outside, use limited seating inside, or takeout to go and eat in your room alone. It was just yesterday when I visited a dining hall and I started a conversation with the woman swiping cards. We talked about our weekends and I got a glimpse into this woman’s life, who then waved me goodbye, and said “Have a nice day, Teresa.” Now, I know this might seem like a regular conversation, but these days people are too afraid of one another. Masks can make it harder to start conversations and detect emotions. This lady looked at the screen and addressed me by my name, and for a second I thought everything was normal. I thought I was meeting my friends for our hour-long meals in the dining hall, where we became friendly with the cooks and spent our time talking with the people we knew who kept coming in and out.
Even the academics themselves have changed. I came into this semester thinking I would have a mixture of online and in person classes. It is now halfway through the semester and I take my classes sitting in my room on my laptop alone. I can no longer meet new people through class or stay after to ask the professors a question. Everything is done through text or email, and in group projects or labs, nobody turns their cameras on, so I stare at a blank screen. And the one thing I really miss is getting up and having a schedule. Even the first week of classes when I had to find my way around this big campus is something I could not experience this year. Every day is the same, but the worst part is feeling like I am missing out on something. I am more of a hands-on learner, so not only do I not absorb information through a screen, I feel as a science major I should be getting real experience in a lab, not through a computer simulation.
College students are expected to change their modes to online learning, spend hours each day teaching themselves and submit assignments on time, while in the background there is a global pandemic. Not only does this increase anxiety, but it makes people feel more alone in a time when nothing is certain. Mental health issues were already rampant among college students due to stress, but now that suffering will go untreated on a larger scale. Colleges need to take this into consideration this semester and realize that students are trying their hardest during this global pandemic. More classes could be offered in person, professors could assign less work and longer deadlines and more in-person events could be held for both the on-campus and off-campus students so they can meet new people. College is an escape and a student’s first glimpse into independence, so campuses all over the country need to find the balance between protection and normalcy, because that normalcy might be the only sense of comfort a student feels during this time.