It's online learning only for the rest of the semester, and students have mixed emotions.
The University of Minnesota Crookston campus is empty, and not because everyone has left for spring break. Lounges and dorms usually full of students are now devoid of life. As everyone is painfully aware, coronavirus or COVID-19, has swept through every community with a wave of panic and fear. From restaurants closing and the Grand Theatre closing its doors for the first time in 100 years, the University of Minnesota has sent out a system-wide order for all campuses to change to an online setting and for students to return or stay at their homes. This has spurred its own wave of frustration and fear among students, many of which are left with little opportunities outside of the university.
The change in classes to an online setting has had massive impact on the students. UMN Crookston English Education student Janessa Millar stated, “I’m unsure of what to do. I do much better in an in-person classroom setting. Suddenly, discussions and lectures are just gone. I’m just waiting out spring break to start figuring out what to do.”
This was a sentiment students seemed split on. Those who had taken classes online before felt confident, but there was worry, especially in students who worked in outdoor fields. Quincy Luedeke, a UMN Crookston Natural Resources student, said, “It kind of feels like I’m not really a student anymore.”
Jear Flage, Horticulture and Landscaping student at UMC, expressed her concern.
“Classes like ‘Turf Management’ are really hands-on classes. They’re going to be difficult,” she said. “How are you supposed to learn about certain physical aspects of a subject through a computer screen?”
There has also been some concern over the abilities of the professors to handle teaching entirely online after being taught to teach in-person. While some students felt their professors could manage, some spoke to the concern of certain professors and their inability to teach the class without the classroom setting.
Social distancing has been difficult for many to maintain. With the request to stay home, some are listening, but some are required to go out and stay at work. Part-time UMN Crookston student Lexi Conwell commented, “Exposure is the only way to regulate until we have a vaccine or cure. Isolation isn’t enjoyable, but it’s temporary, and worth it to save lives,” she said. “However, without a fiscal safety net, people are going to starve, or be evicted.”
UMN Crookston Biology student Hao Gao from China was also solidly of the opinion that social distancing is required, noting, “Safety has to come first. I won’t risk my life and others for a few minutes of happiness.”
Flage and Millar also noted that they were required to work to maintain their lives living off campus, but both are stringently practicing social distancing. Many also mentioned the differences they saw in their friend groups. Being spring break, most are currently distanced from friends, explaining they had changed to online communication. Snapchat, video calls, texting, and social media have been lifelines for students who can’t or won’t see their friends in real life for a while.
Pre-Veterinary student Deana Fries said, “I could usually just text my friends where to meet up, pop in for brunch; now, you text, call, or video chat. It’s just a matter of avoiding face-to-face contact.”
The prevailing student response to the COVID-19 reaction of the U of M system has been negative, with a grudging understanding of the situation. Most students understand the concern, but the dissatisfaction is still there. Flage noted, “They might be refunding meal plans, but they won’t reimburse us tuition for the education we won’t be fully getting now,” Luedeke said. “I understand why they are doing this, but I feel like it’s being overblown. Still, safety has to come first.”
This sentiment seemed to be the general consensus of the students at UMC, though definitive sides have surfaced. Some are solidly of the stance that the restrictions are necessary. Conwell commented, “It seems like too much, but that's the point. If it looks like an overreaction, that means it's working. The math sucks but probably doesn’t lie. And it's what we've got.”
Gao stated, “I think this is the right thing to do. We have antibiotics for bacteria, but no specific medicine for this virus.”
Some students, however, feel that there is too much panic and fear being spread by this reaction. Many feel that as the age group at least risk, social distancing would be sufficient, without the complete removal of social contact. Fries stated, “I feel that the reaction is too much. There are so few cases, yet we are acting as though we’re being wiped out en masse.”
Personal concern for themselves has been a minor factor for students, as the majority of them have few health issues that places them at risk. However, the higher priority concern is due to public reaction.
Flage said, “People are panicking, buying food and stocking up. Closing businesses and transit however, is shutting down transport and work for many people that need these services. It’s scary, and it’s frustrated to be isolated, but it’s for the best.”
Conwell also expressed concern about the pandemic’s impact. “Personally, I know I’d be fine. But for people I know, I’m doing my best to do my part, as everyone should,” she said. “I worry that grocery stores will close, that people won’t be able to eat. If the powers that be do their jobs for once, and people remain calm, this crisis will pass.”
Millar added, “People will get infected and die. We can try and limit that number, at least. But I fully believe the media is blowing this out of proportion.”
All the students reported that they have friends or loved ones that may be vulnerable, and emphasized their concern for everyone at risk and their well wishes for their health.