Student Perspectives: A Look at Being Back on Campus

By Amber Rizzi, English

The emergence of the strain of coronavirus known as COVID-19 in late 2019 has changed the way the world does things. Now, it is often mandated that people wear facemasks indoors and engage in social distancing. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), SARS-CoV-2, or COVID-19, is “an infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus” (World Health Organization). In March 2020, Georgian Court University shut its doors due to the new virus and had to engage in online learning for a year and a half before the vaccines for the virus came out. Fall 2021 is the first semester back on campus, and students are feeling how things have changed in just a year. “I started noticing that masks are needed everywhere,” says Allison Chillemi, sophomore. “Nowadays it’s more people are starting to show, masks are still being worn, and [we] get to actually meet the professors face-to-face.”

A lot of information has come out about COVID-19 since the pandemic first began. According to the WHO, the virus “can spread from an infected person’s mouth or nose in small liquid particles when they cough, sneeze, speak, sing or breathe” (World Health Organization). Therefore, Georgian Court has kept a mask mandate in place since reopening the campus grounds to students and staff. The less the droplets spread, the less illness there is because there is a barrier stopping the main culprits of the virus from spreading.

University policy regarding the virus is also that all students on campus must be vaccinated for COVID-19 by October 1st, 2021. This is another change that was not in effect when the university shut down, due to COVID-19 being a relatively new virus at the time and there being no vaccines for it. Now that there are vaccinations for it, the university is requiring students and encouraging faculty and staff to get inoculated against the virus if they are going to be on campus this semester. This is required for students along with other immunizations that are asked for.

There are also the attitudes toward being back on campus to consider. Since it has been such a long time since the campus has operated in-person, different people have different feelings about being back in-person. Some people prefer the online format, while others feel better about being back in person. Chillemi prefers a mixture of both. “I am a visual learner and I feel that in-person I can get extra help,” she says. With how the university has changed in just a year, students are seeing what is different now versus before the pandemic. Now, face coverings are required in indoor settings on campus, except in dorm rooms with closed doors and offices with closed doors. Chillemi acknowledges the impact of these changes and feels that it has definitely changed how the university as a whole approaches things.

According to the WHO, it is also important to practice respiratory etiquette when it comes to protecting yourself and others from COVID-19. This can be done, according to their website as an example, by “coughing into a flexed elbow” and “to stay home and self-isolate until you recover if you feel unwell” (WHO). Georgian Court has prepared for the measure of self-isolating by having cameras in certain classrooms that will allow an isolating student to still participate in class if they test positive for COVID-19 and have to work remotely.

Now that Georgian Court is back on campus, students are expected to physically show up to class as opposed to using the online learning module that was utilized this past year and a half. This is not the case for fully online courses, but the Zoom meetings that were utilized during the height of the pandemic are no longer in use. Chillemi sees positives and negatives to this. “When everything was online,” she says, “I missed when I didn’t have to bother with getting up from my bed and walk to class. I think being in person is much better but also a pain in a way because I have to run everywhere for my classes and tutoring.” With the entire student body having not been on campus in over a year, there is going to be an adjustment period with actually being back in person.

Another change that the university implemented was the use of the Campus Clear application to make sure that students are not coming to campus sick. The application only asks how a student is feeling, but it is a question that all students are required to answer before setting foot on campus grounds, and it is required that it is filled out every day someone comes to campus. This is another example of a measure that was not in place when the university shut down. It was implemented this past July and is meant to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on campus.

With that application in mind, it is important to finally consider how students are taking measures to stay safe while being back in-person. Chillemi says she has noticed students social distancing on campus and keeping their masks on in all places where it is required. “I myself have maintained the rules of the mask regulations,” she said. It is important to continue wearing masks where it is required, in order to prevent the spread of the virus and keep others safe, as the WHO goes into on their website when talking about COVID-19.

Being back on campus is a change that has generated a lot of different feelings and different responses. With the new mask rule, Campus Clear, and the vaccine mandate for students, a lot has changed with how the university is approaching student and faculty health in response to COVID-19. This is all because of what the World Health Organization has said about COVID-19 and how it spreads. But, if the student body and faculty can work together to stop the spread, COVID-19 will not be as big of a threat as it once was. That is not to say that there will not be permanent changes to how things are done on campus, but students and faculty can work together to prevent the spread of the virus. If that is done, the virus will not be able to spread as easily. 

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