The coronavirus. We’ve all heard about it. It’s filled our news feeds and social media. But I’m going to be real, as a college student, I didn’t give it too much thought, and I surely didn’t think it was going to have an impact on my education.
In a press conference on Tuesday, UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Mark Mone released a statement that UWM Foundation employee who works on campus had become sick after being in contact with an individual who had traveled to a country on alert for the virus. The employee is being tested at a local hospital for the virus, but we won’t know anything further until the end of the week. As a precaution, the university is extending spring break, which begins March 15 and originally was supposed to go through March 22, an extra week to March 29. Then, after spring break, classes will be held online rather than in person for an unspecified period of time.
I woke up Tuesday morning worried about assignments and midterms that were due, anxious about how I was going to get it all done before spring break. The coronavirus was the farthest thing from my mind. I can’t speak for all college students, but from my roommates and the people I’ve talked to, we seem to be less worried than what we’re seeing on the news. I have not heard of any toilet paper hoarding on campus.
Before Tuesday, though we had heard about the precautions urged by the university, it was more or less business as usual at UWM. But as Tuesday went on, that started to change.
I walked into my small, discussion-based class that morning – hours before the 5 p.m. news conference – to find my professor somewhat out of sorts. He’d just come from a meeting with the university board about UWM’s emergency preparedness regarding the coronavirus, and moving classes online for an unspecified period of time after spring break was on the table, he told us.
When our professor had said that we could spend the whole class period talking about the virus and what it means for us, we didn’t fully believe him at first. But, as he explained to us, he cares more about our concerns than the reading we were going to be discussing that day. We ended up spending at least half the class period talking about what this could mean for us, classes and campus life. We all had questions. What about internships? On-campus jobs? People who live in the dorms? Classes that can’t be moved online? The list goes on.
Expect change of some kind, he told us.
After class, I went to my internship at Milwaukee Magazine, thoughts swirling in my head. I simply wanted to know if classes were in fact going to be moved online. I went about my normal life at work, but when our executive editor came up to our digital editor asking if she had seen the UWM press release, I knew exactly what it was about. The coronavirus.
I was sent to cover the news conference. When Chancellor Mone walked into the room and began speaking, once again on trend for the day, I did not expect what would come out of his mouth: that someone on campus was being tested for virus and that spring break would be extended. And, even though I’d already heard about the possibility of classes moving online, there was a part of me that truly did not think it was going to happen.
After the conference, I called my editor and then my mom to fill her in on what was happening. When I got home, my roommates had already received an email with all the information from the press conference in it. One of my roommates had already gotten an email from a professor about their class being canceled. Shortly after, I would receive a similar email from a professor asking if we should hold class on Wednesday.
This scene is playing out – or with even more drastic measures – in universities around the country. Some have even asked students to evacuate campus by a certain date and aren’t holding classes at all for an unspecified period of time. UWM has only asked students to not be on campus during spring break. The university is still trying to figure out how to handle classes, practicums and other educational opportunities that cannot be held online.
Mone said at the press conference that the semester would not be extended, but rather classes likely would be longer and the course load more compact. Just what every college student needs: for classes to be more challenging and fast-paced than they already are. Wonderful.
However, part of me can’t help but wonder that if the outbreak weren’t happening around spring break – and the travel often built into that time for so many students – would any of this even be happening? Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited about the longer break, but I am also worried about how classes will proceed after break with online instruction and for majors that cannot operate online like art, music and dance. I am cautiously worried about the virus, but more worried about how it will affect the rest of the school year and my education overall. Not to mention that there are other factors involved like access to a computer and internet, learning style – online instruction is not always beneficial for every student.
For me, all of this come out of left field; the best word I can think of to describe it all is unexpected. Although there are still large and looming questions about what life as a college student will look like after this week, personally as a student I have felt cared for and communicated with. UWM’s faculty and staff have reached out about classes. My professor from the class I had Tuesday morning personally reached out about my question about internships (even though there wasn’t a positive answer yet).
So, if you want to know what it’s like to be a college student during the coronavirus outbreak, I’d say it’s much like that same professor walking into class that morning after the meeting ⏤ a bit frazzled.