Since March of this year, COVID-19 has had a drastic impact on the United States and its citizens. With widespread concern for peoples’ safety in relation to the virus, one issue that has been debated over the past few months is whether or not college students should go back to campus. Willamette is one of many schools across the country that has chosen to reopen and students have a vast array of opinions regarding this decision.
Many students have questioned the idea of schools reopening because it could lead to a COVID-19 outbreak on and around campus, even with masks and proper social distancing. Some students attending Willamette remotely agree with this. Online student Layla Hughes (‘23) expressed concern about reopening because “there’s almost no ways to avoid cases, realistically.”
Mackenzie Johnson (‘22) agreed, claiming that “with the imminent danger of it [Willamette] closing in the near future,” there didn’t seem to be much of a point to go back.
Despite the possibility of the university closing down due to COVID-19, some students have returned to campus simply because it is a better academic environment for them. In-person student Brianna Kurtenbach (‘22) said that “I know that I’m not very good at studying at home, so I know that even if we’re online and at Willamette, it provides me with an environment of learning.”
Enku Castellanos (‘21) shared a similar sentiment, stating that because she’s in her senior year, she has “a lot of things to do and focus on, so being at home wasn’t necessarily the most ideal environment for schoolwork.”
Although some said that safety was a key factor in their decision to return to campus, there has also been pressure to return from a social perspective. Johnson said that there was a lot of incentive to go back based on social life alone, which made it more difficult for her to make a decision. Though it may be nice for students to get to see their friends again after being apart for summer, some noted that this may not be a good thing. Castellanos showed concern regarding the social aspects of campus reopening, saying she’s “seen people gathering together, and we’re starting to get into the winter months soon.” She noted that since people tend to get sick during the colder seasons, she anticipates that “there’s a real possibility we might just go home altogether.”
On top of student’s concerns surrounding the safety of Willamette’s environment, academic pressure is a concern for those both at home and in person. Kurtenbach associates more stress with remote learning than in-person because of the lack of face-to-face connection to professors, saying: “Something we super-stress here, especially to first-years, is go talk to your professors, go meet them, communicate with them. They’re here to help you. And when you’re online only, you lose that human-to-human connection.”
Some interviewees also noticed the increased amount of accountability students have when going online for a semester. Johnson made note of a disconnect with the classroom environment when learning remotely, saying that it might be harder to speak up via Zoom than in person. She said that the main difference is “it’s not like a classroom setting with people surrounding you. Like you feel a little more scared to talk, because your face is going to pop up on a screen in front of the entire class.” There is also uncertainty regarding group work, and whether or not Zoom students will be paired with other Zoom students or if they will be integrated with those who are in-person.
In spite of these strange and trying circumstances, many students have nonetheless been finding professors to be encouraging and engaging with their students. Kurtenbach said her experience has been very positive, saying everyone is “very easygoing. [The professors] are all trying to adapt to technology, which is kind of funny and annoying at the same time.”
Hughes agreed with this statement, saying “obviously there’s been like little bumps in the road because we’re all new to this, but the professors have been very kind.”
Though no one is completely sure what turn COVID-19 will take next, most people agree that the only way to keep the health of the Willamette community in check is to continue following the protocol that has been laid down. Kurtenbach said that although the safety precautions are being followed so far, she is unsure of what will happen in the future. She stated, “I’m really hopeful we can stay safe, but people have to take this seriously, and I am really worried that the momentum going in is going to fall really fast. And people are going to think that we’re safe… and we’re not.”