Students struggle to adjust to distance learning, limited social interaction amid healthcare regulations

Photo by Abigail McArthur-Self

By Noah Jones and Abigail McArthur-Self

With around half of DePauw’s students taking courses completely remotely and half taking courses on campus, students faced a handful of new challenges this semester.

For returning students, the social distancing rules and limited social events stand in stark contrast to what junior Paige Price has called “the real DePauw experience.” Besides softball and the honor program, Price’s friends are a big part of his DePauw experience.

Price is not the only student who thinks that the “real DePauw experience” is difficult for students to have during this semester. Jonathon Tebbe, Sr., called his experience this semester “a day-to-day thing”. While Tebbe says some days are great, he says, “There are days when I really wake up in the morning, and I sit in front of the computer, and I’m like, in this fog.” He attributed this in part to a lack of “face to face interaction”.

For some freshmen, the lack of social activities made the transition to college more difficult than they anticipated. First-year Katrina Spranger has struggled to adjust to college because she has “nothing to look forward to on the weekends.” There is nothing you can do during a pandemic, ”Spranger said. “It sounds really overwhelming. “

The low number of students on campus and restrictions on social activities have left students with few options to choose from when trying to take a break from schoolwork. According to Spranger, “People ignore the big picture, the lack of social life, which I think is honestly one of the most important things that has impacted my mental health.”

With most juniors and seniors off campus, the campus is more empty, which limits interactions with peers. “Every time you walk around campus you don’t see a lot of people and you’re afraid to get close to people because you have to walk away, so you don’t really speak,” said second student Drew Moore. “Not being able to interact with as many people as we could last year and taking online classes is hurting your day. “

Many students take online classes and a number report experiencing “zoom fatigue,” a type of exhaustion associated with online interactions. “We’re being told all of our lives, like, it’s not good for you to watch a screen all day… Staring at a screen for… hours a day really wreaks havoc on you, and it’s hard, it’s very difficult to relax, ”said Julia Sifferlen, an off-campus senior.

Students who live off campus do not have access to university buildings and libraries that they would normally use as study spaces. Sifferlen felt that doing his homework from his bedroom made it harder to separate work and free time. “In previous years it was very easy for me to love, go to class or go to Roy or go to Julian and do my job there, and then when I come home, I’m done, and I can, like, relax, “Sifferlen said. Without this separation she feels school has been” a lot more stressful than it usually is “.

On Zoom, according to Will Berens junior, it is easier for students to opt out of their classes. “In the first two weeks of the online course, everyone had their cameras on and interacted,” he said. “Now everyone’s turned off their cameras, and it’s hard to get that participation and that discussion.

Even some students on campus who take one or two face-to-face classes have also experienced “zoom fatigue.” First year Olivia Lockette said: “It’s hard to watch a screen this long… your eyes hurt, you tire, you get distracted, you open a new tab. ”

Those who take face-to-face classes on campus complain that their classes aren’t consistent, which adds an additional challenge for some students. Lockette and Spranger said keeping track of the format and adjusting their ways of focusing to match can be a challenge. Spranger wanted a more “consistent” schedule, and Lockette described the transition between course types as “the constant turning on and off of different parts of the classroom. [her] brain ”, to meet the demands of the environment.

The lack of a fall break also had an impact on the mental health of some students. According to Sifferlen, students and faculty alike said “the fall break is here for a reason.”

Many students said faculty had talked about accommodating this semester, but how they actually applied it to class varied. Some, like sophomore professor Sydney Greene, are willing to give extensions to students who need more time, while others are not.

With all the changes the students have felt, some would like to have more of a say in the conversation. “I wish the people who set the rules and the plan for the school year would also have a conversation with us because I think we have a lot of great ideas that could somehow change the way things are going here and improve it for people but still stay safe during the pandemic, ”Spranger said.

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