As colleges throughout the country work to reintroduce students to campus, there are many benefits and drawbacks of universities “returning to normal.”
Following the considerable disruption that prompted students to put their lives and ambitions on hold due to COVID-19, many students are eager to get back to campus and desperate to interact with other students.
“I want the full college experience. I want to be able to meet others with the same interests as me,” said Leilani Miller, a student at SLCC.
According to a March 2021 survey by Inside Higher Ed, half of student respondents were “anxious to get back to all or more in-person classes.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, students have missed out on going to sports events, dances, club meetings, making connections with other students, and other events that make the college experience.
“This semester, we have been allowed to have more in-person events again, and you can clearly see that students are hungry for that interaction,” said Lindsay Simons, president of the SLCC Student Association and a member of SLCC’s COVID-19 Task Force.
Universities reopening to students will help alleviate the mental health crisis that faces college-aged students in the era of COVID-19.
In a survey done by the Center for Outcomes Research, they found that the mental health of college students has rapidly deteriorated. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 71 percent of students polled say they have experienced increased stress and anxiety due to the loss of family members, the fear of contracting COVID-19, and the isolation they were forced into because of the virus.
“Students’ mental health is tanking. We need to keep things open and keep having events so we can help students heal their mental health,” Simons said.
Not everyone agrees that returning to campus is a good idea, especially in light of the Delta variant.
“What I am hearing most from staff and students are concerns for loved ones and family members,” explained Nick Burns, the associate dean of Communication and Performing Arts at SLCC.
For students at community colleges like SLCC, living on campus is often not an option, which means in pandemic times, the risk of community spread is increased. However, according to Simons, this seems to be a more significant concern for staff members.
“I have not really had any complaints about coming back to in-person classes, except for the teachers, they are worried — but I hear nothing like that from students,” Simons explained.
However, Simons has received a lot of backlash from students after the recent vaccine mandate imposed by SLCC for the spring semester, noting that it’s difficult to be both a school leader and the student body’s voice at the college.
“I need to have a position as a school leader. I want to keep things open, so people should get vaccinated,” Simons said. “I am also a strong believer in personal choice. As college-aged adults, we are all capable of doing research and making the best decision for ourselves.”
However, some students believe the vaccine mandate is necessary to keep everyone on campus safe.
“The pandemic is not gone, and it is not a joke,” Miller said. “If people are not going to take this seriously, then institutions like SLCC are forced to step up and take extra measures to protect students.”
Many students had to adapt to online learning amidst the pandemic, and some have grown to like the flexibility that online classes offer, especially the students who work lots of hours and have families.
“Our online classes are very popular with students, so I do not see them going anywhere,” Burns said.
As students race back to campuses, they’re grappling with the fact that there is no going “back to normal,” but instead, they are having to adjust to a new kind of normal.
Counseling is available at SLCC for students and staff that are experiencing mental health issues.