Coronavirus brings new normal to campus

Coronavirus brings new normal to campus

Transitioning to online learning, coupled with COVID-19 socializing restrictions, has some students feeling isolated and stressed.
Published: October 8, 2020
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Circles mark areas that are six feet apart outside on campus to encourage social distancing.

The coronavirus has upended campus life at Syracuse University, forcing students to search for motivation to complete work, discover creative ways to socialize and fight feelings of isolation with the university’s restrictions.

Interviews with nearly three dozen students in recent days show this “new normal” has transformed campus life.

Some students say they feel disgruntled over the transition to online classes. They’re struggling to find motivation — and stay awake — during remote learning. Most prefer in-person classes, even though some say going to class brings worries about contracting COVID-19.

Social circles have shrunk to roommates and single dorm floors. Many students said they’re trying to fill their time with exercise, movies and game nights. Even grocery shopping has become something to look forward to. It’s a chance to hang out with friends, one student said.

This new version of college is taking its toll, students said. Some said they feel over-scheduled as professors expect students to watch pre-recorded lectures outside of class time. Others say with the promise of open book exams, their study habits and diligence are waning.

“It’s really weird just staring at a screen all day,” said human development and family science sophomore Daphne Budin. “It doesn’t really feel like school.”

And, they said, it can get lonely. Among 35 students interviewed for this story during the fifth week of classes, 14 said they feel isolated on campus and 10 described their social life as “non-existent.”

Six students noted they have not made a new friend this semester.

“You don’t just run into people the same way you did last year,” said accounting and public relations sophomore Mira Berenbaum.

In-class Social Distancing
Students sit on social distance markers in during in-person classes, as the COVID-19 protocols require a distance of at least six feet between people. The markers on the classroom floors help students maintain the appropriate distance between each other.

Yet, most interviewed — in person, by phone or over Zoom — said they’re determined to keep going, despite all the challenges and changes at SU.

“We all want the pandemic just to be over, and get back to life as usual,” said finance and accounting sophomore Randy Pierce. “But, for the current state of the world, I think they’re doing a pretty good job.”

Two-thirds of the students interviewed said they were struggling with staying focused during online instruction.

Public relations and programming sophomore Jialing He said she feels ignored in her online classes. Sometimes, she said, professors and teaching assistants miss the students who raise their hands online. That makes it harder for students to voice their opinions in class, causing them to be less engaged, she said.

Sophomore Dylan Garvin is working toward two majors: information management and technology and political science. He said he’s spending a lot more time with his roommate this semester. He’s also not making friends in classes as easily.

“It’s kind of hard to gain a camaraderie within the class,” he said.

Online and hybrid classes — where half the students meet in person while the others join remotely — pose a unique challenge for students studying subjects that require hands-on learning.

Help Our Staff 2020
With the implementation of masks and plexiglass for COVID-19 protocols, food workers in cafeterias often have trouble hearing orders.

Nihar Varadappagari, who is studying architecture, said that his studio classes have completely changed. Instead of making models in person by hand, they now use a digital software called Rhino to create models that are critiqued and graded by professors.

Even though online learning is safer, it is restrictive, he said.

“Traditionally, I think making the models is a better learning experience,” Varadappagari said.

Plus, some said, it can be hard to go to online class while roommates are also at home.

“There are always people in my room so at times it can be very distracting,” said Felix Baur, an information management and technology sophomore in the School of Information Studies.

Sophomore Cammie Nash, a Syracuse resident who is studying citizenship and civic engagement, says she’s only stepped off campus once in the past month. Nash said she feels she has more work to do because most of her classes don’t have a fixed schedule. She has to take her own time watching recorded videos.

“I constantly should do something, ” she said, “I always feel behind.”

Randy Pierce, a finance and accounting sophomore, said he’s putting more effort into classes that count toward his major. In others, he said, he does what he needs to pass and not much more.

“You can only really go as far as you let yourself,” he said. “It depends how far a student wants to push.”

Classes aren’t the only thing looking different at SU this year.

Public relations sophomore Ava Helmers said she hasn’t gone to a party this semester. She also hasn’t made any new friends.

Instead, she said, her socializing is buying food with friends on Marshall Street and eating in a park behind Bird Library. They stay 6 feet apart, she said.

“It is not as normal as before,” she said. “Sometimes it is hard to hear each other.”

This semester, Syracuse University adopted a new policy that prohibits students from visiting other residence halls. While that may be keeping the virus at bay, 21 students said their “social circle” consists of their roommates and other students who live in their residence hall or neighborhood.

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The university is requiring random pool testing of students in an attempt to catch cases before they spread.

Johnny Gadamowitz, 19, lives in a different residence hall than most of his friends. He said one of the only times he can see them is if they meet up in the dining hall for a meal.

Deena Netz, a forensic science sophomore, said she also feels isolated from the rest of campus.

“My friends and I end up hanging out with the same four people on the floor above us because there really isn’t anything else to do,” she said. “It’s a pretty isolating experience. I hate it.”

Most students said they understand the importance of the restrictions, even though they come at a cost.

Unlike many other colleges and universities nationwide, SU, so far, has had few coronavirus cases on campus, until an outbreak — traced back to an off-campus gathering — occurred earlier this week. As of Thursday, Oct. 8, SU reported 65 active cases amongst the 14,000 undergraduate students.

Anika Carlson, a sophomore studying law and Italian, said she’s in favor of the restrictions, even though it’s impeding her extracurricular life. She said one of her friends was sent home after having too many people in her room.

With two months to go before on-campus classes end, some students say they’re also thinking about what happens with classes, social life and the virus as Syracuse’s fall turns into winter.

“It’ll be even harder to see people in other dorms once it gets colder outside,” said Zoe Miller, a fashion design freshman. “No one wants to hang out outside.”

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Campus workers re-paint the social distancing circles in the grass.

Editor's Note:

Morgan Calcara, Ava Hu, Douglas Lattuca, Daniel Mallea, Arjun Menon, Ella Mulligan, Louise Rath, Julia Short, Walker Simmons, Yuxuan Wu and Nick Zelaya contributed to this report.