What Going Back to College Looks Like in the Middle of a Pandemic

Thoughts from an Alverno College senior

I can’t believe I’m writing about coronavirus in August, but here we are. Back-to-school season. It’s he most highly anticipated part of this year, but I’d compare my experience to trying to swim in a flushing toilet bowl. Complete and utter chaos. 

I attend Alverno College in Milwaukee with a once-anticipated graduation date of December 2020. The last bit of normal I remember is receiving an email from my school that our spring break was being extended for an extra week back in March. Since that email, I haven’t been back to in-person learning. 

At first, I didn’t mind it. I finished off the semester as usual. There were plenty of virtual meetings, virtual workouts with my volleyball team and I was working part-time at Target. Nothing too out of the ordinary. My professors and coaches were optimistic about a normal start in the fall. I trudged on with my optimistic mindset that the virus was going to subside within the upcoming months.

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When July rolled around things got a tad sticky. With announcements nowhere to be found and decisions still not made, it felt as if everyone was trying to deny the truth to save students’ feelings. While it’s unfathomable imagining the decisions that had to be made, I can’t deny that the amount of optimism was a bit far-fetched. This virus was clearly going nowhere. I knew what I viewed as normalcy in education was about to change, at least for the semester. 

The text messages for meetings started to roll in near the end of July. The safety of a fall athletics season has been a commonly questioned aspect of the school year around the nation. The Northern Athletic Collegiate Conference had held off about as long as they could before announcing that they were postponing the fall competition season to the spring. When I got the news, I laughed. You get “the talk” a lot as an athlete that you never know when your next game could be your last game. Honestly, I thought my knee was going to take me out of my senior season. Maybe an ankle injury. A global pandemic? Did not see that one coming. Felt pretty on trend with 2020 though. 

Once I moved past my sub-par athletic career being over, I went back to my regularly scheduled weekly wait for my campus’ COVID-19 update. There was a four-week stretch of “we’ll be back to business as usual” updates which really meant that it was too early to know what was going to happen come Aug. 26. 

Last week the school’s “Return to Campus Guide” released. Finally. While most of my friends skimmed the 33-page detailed plan, I sat down and read through each and every page. Less than 1/3 of the 948 courses are going to be held in-person. With face-to-face classes being clinical and lab courses. There are increased sanitation stations, contact tracing for in-person classes as well as accommodations to be made for students wishing to keep their learning entirely virtual. The staff will also be attending workshop sessions to properly prepare to teach us virtually this year, as outlined in the guide. 

What this means for a majority of non-nursing or pre-med majors is that we will be virtually learning. With Alverno’s class sizes having a 9:1 ratio of students to faculty I have to admit I was slightly disheartened. The right decision was made, I don’t have any doubt in my mind about it. But the last bit of hope was torn from our hands.

Starting Aug. 26, I’ll jump onto my Zoom calls without a break until Thanksgiving. As most universities in the area are doing, we won’t be returning until the next semester begins in late January. I’m just holding onto hope that I’ll be able to walk across the stage come December to get my $100,000 piece of paper verifying my three and a half years of no sleep. 

So, if you’re wondering what going back to college is like during the COVID-19 pandemic is like, I’d say it’s a learning process. A process filled with tears, laughs, frustrations and hope. Undoubtedly, we’re all in this together. 

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Morgan is a 2020 MilMag intern. She's Minnesota born, but has a Milwaukee heart. An Alverno College undergraduate and will be graduating in December 2020 . Follow her on social media @morgan_lemner