For students who have attended the University of Dallas in-person since the beginning of the first post-lock down semester, the changes to student life can be hard to detect. However, from the perspective of students recently welcomed back from online study this spring semester, those differences are distinctly obvious.
Senior Grace Burleigh is a dual English and French major who remained in online classes during fall 2020 for medical reasons. She described her virtual experience and subsequent return as extremely trying, yet uniquely eye-opening.
“It was not pretty,” she said, recalling her time in online classes even as her classmates returned to campus for school. “It was really frustrating for me because even for classes I really liked, even my major, it was so hard to summon the energy and motivation to keep up while I was at home.”
When the announcement was made in March 2020 that the university would be shut down and its students would finish their semester online, everyone felt the impact of such a drastic shift.
Zoom calls became the medium for interacting with classmates, lectures were attended from under a bedspread and homework was done in the same spot as it had been in high school. Attention spans were stretched thin, motivations were tested and the shadow of the global pandemic was universal. Everyone was in the same boat, it seemed.
Once the new academic year arrived, and a return to campus was possible, that boat emptied pretty quickly. Those who remained online would return to a changed campus. For Burleigh, a senior planning to graduate in May, it seemed like almost too much to jump back into.
“Now that I’m back, it’s like you’re in the third round of Mario Kart and you pause to take a restroom break, then when you come back you forget how intense it is,” she joked
For some, online school meant learning virtually from across the country, even in different time zones.
Senior Alisa Nascimento described her cross-country online experience as tough but rewarding.
“Being in a different time zone meant I woke up earlier for my classes,” she recalls. “While it was initially a struggle to not hit the snooze button, I actually felt so much more flexible with my schedule since the two hour difference meant I had more of the afternoon/daylight time to myself.”
Nascimento described her return to campus as unsettling, even a bit jarring.
“It was definitely a bit of an adjustment to return to a place full of college students again.”
Nascimento was surprised by how the students who had remained on campus last semester so quickly forgot the importance of following even the simplest COVID-19 prevention policies, like masks.
“I think the biggest shock for me was mask-related,” she said. “I know people have different ideas on the whole mask situation. I very much live by the ‘better safe than sorry’ mentality … I just felt off-put at the ease with which students put themselves in such close proximity to each other unmasked.”
Junior Uniikye Washington, an economics major and a basketball player, remained online for health reasons as well, but during the fall he soon felt the weight of isolation pressing on him.
“Not having much social interaction nor being able to be on the basketball team were really the two determining factors for me moving back on campus,” he said.
Uniikye’s tale of the tape is an optimistic one. As an athlete with asthma, he knows the university’s implementation of masks is necessary, but upon his return he recognized the survival of a genuine, authentic UD atmosphere, even during the COVID era.
“I feel that the university has done a great job of keeping the University of Dallas the close knit campus that it’s always been. There is still Music on the Mall, people still play games in the gym, and the university has still tried to put on activities for the students.”
For students still enrolled online, the struggle may seem overwhelming. However, it doesn’t have to be.
“As long as you don’t develop bad habits, online school can be liberating,” encourages Nascimento.
Burleigh offered her experience and her wisdom to those who may be struggling as well. Taking the dogs on a walk or making phone calls to friends can give you breaks from the screen as well as giving you something to look forward to aside from the monotony of virtual learning.
Nascimento added, “I don’t know if people already know this, but it’s okay if you don’t want to socialize … It is an unprecedented time and you can’t hold yourself to the same standards that existed pre-pandemic.”
Perhaps most importantly, the mental health of students who might be feeling isolated or lonely is something that must be looked after.
“Ask for help!” said Burleigh when asked what advice she can give to those who might feel stuck in a rut. “It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s actually a sign of strength because you’re willing to pick yourself back up.”