COVID-19 closes universities, but strengthens college communities

Jessi Schlewitt, R3 Editor-In-Chief

“It breaks my heart not to be back at ‘home.’”

Like many students, WHS alumnus and Penn State freshman Amy Forbes is devastated to have to leave the university that has become her second home. Across the country, colleges are cancelling in-person classes and advising students to leave campus in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Many professors are turning to live streams or online forums to conduct at-home learning, allowing students to complete a semester’s worth of work off campus. Forbes, however, finds remote learning to be ineffective compared to her in-person courses. 

“I find it really hard to learn this way,” she said. “I do not feel as motivated to do my work because it feels almost like a joke.” 

To Forbes, online learning is not only psychologically, but logistically more challenging than her standard learning conditions. Her professors were forced to quickly adapt to new teaching technologies, a factor she deemed to be considerably inefficient. 

Other students, such as UCLA freshman and WHS graduate Jack Colby, were not as affected by the transition to remote learning. 

“I am a biology pre-medicine major where most of what I’m being taught [can be] learned on my own,” said Colby. 

However, due to UCLA’s quarter-based schedule instead of a semester schedule, the university’s transition to online learning took place during final exam week. Remote exams introduced altered guidelines for test-taking, including open-notes exams or extended time limits. But some of these adjustments proved stressful, as Colby noted that some peers were required to  “record themselves taking [their exams] with applications that track [their] eyes to see if [they] are cheating.”

Photo by Penn State University Instagram

But perhaps more taxing than the new exam circumstances is the distance from home, a stress Colby is familiar with.

“It was scary being very far away,” said Colby. “[My university is] 3,000 miles away from home, so the idea of getting the virus was very scary because I [couldn’t] go home.”

Marc Harari, a Brandeis University freshman, experienced a similar stress of being far from home. As a Venezuelan international student, Harari did not have an opportunity to return to his home and family abroad.

“For [international students], it’s difficult to get back home and the process is way harder,” said Harari. “[However], the Brandeis administration and student population have been very accommodating and have thought a lot about the effect decisions will have on international students.” 

Harari added that the Brandeis community has offered to “[give] emergency funds to help buy [travel] tickets and [allow] some students to stay on campus for the rest of the semester.”

Because Venezuela closed its borders in response to COVID-19, Harari will remain in the U.S. for the time being, but feels “Brandeis has made the process a lot easier for international students.”

Cornell University sophomore and WHS graduate Dean Pucciarelli felt for his peers who likewise did not have an accessible or safe home outside of Cornell.

“This whole situation is honestly a disaster with a hotbed of repercussions for a lot of students, and I’m worried about students returning home to areas without internet access, dangerous neighbors and turbulent settings [with] family problems,” said Pucciarelli. “A lot of students have banded together via Google Forms and other mediums to help students like this find shelter with other returning students. The campus response was amazing to see, and really showed us how strong the Cornell community is in terms of caring for each other.”

Across the globe, Sacred Heart University junior Olivia Kamienski also watched as her own college community united in light of COVID-19.

Studying abroad in Rome as the virus escalated, Kamienski was forced to return to the U.S. in the beginning of March despite intending to study in Rome for the semester. 

“Studying abroad was an experience that my friends and I were really looking forward to and it sucks that it had to get cut so short,” said Kamienski. “I’ll always cherish the memories we made, but it really sucks that we won’t be able to make any more.” 

Nonetheless, Kamienski has felt greatly supported by her college community, a solidarity that Forbes, Colby, Harari and Pucciarelli all experienced as well. 

“The people from [my university’s abroad program] who I didn’t really know before, I got to know better because of the chaos we went through together,” said Kamienski. “It was crazy, but definitely a bonding experience.”