By Sean Leonard
Freshman year is usually a time when students interact with their peers, explore the campus and make friendships that can last beyond their time at the College. For freshmen in the 2020-21 academic year, the College experience can be summed up — or in this case subtracted — by one word: Covid-19.
The lack of structure and social interactions caused by remote learning has damaged the mental health of students like freshman psychology major Gigi Caballero. She said her procrastination has become especially bad with her asynchronous courses, which only meet over Zoom once per week.
“I feel like I used to be smarter and way more driven. Since Covid I lost all motivation, lost a ton of friends and I feel so stuck to be honest,” Caballero said. “I like having (my schedule) set because I procrastinate a lot, and if I’m not getting made to do it, I’m probably going to push it back until the last minute.”
Dr. Mark Forest is the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs for Health and Wellness and the director of Mental Health Services (MHS). After almost a year of classes on Zoom, he said many people are fatigued from the virtual format, including himself.
“You’re more wary of scratching your nose or doing something that’s going to be visible to all the students and the professor in class,” Forest said. “So there’s a level of sort of fatigue that kind of sets in from being on guard the whole time.”
Caballero has not had a true in-person experience at the College and is missing out on the campus experience because of the boundaries caused by the remote environment.
“I was expecting to make a bunch of new (friends), and it’s not like I haven’t. I made a bunch of new friends, but they’re not like those close connections. And it’s like it’s not as real as if you met them in person,” Caballero said.
Because of the risk of Covid-19 transmission, the College made the decision to eliminate the week-long spring break. Instead, according to a Dec. 17 email from President Foster, there will be two independent break days on Mar. 18 and 30 along with Recharge Week from March 29 to Apr. 2, which encourages professors to decrease workload and encourage activities that promote self help.
Forest said that, ideally, having a break during the semester is healthy for students and he understands why students are upset. However, he understands the rationale and said what the College decided was a reasonable balance.
“As much as I appreciate the value and the benefit of the spring break, I also think that it’s ultimately more beneficial for students to incorporate self care into their routine on a daily weekly basis, not just wait until they’re off for a week and go down to Daytona or Cancun or wherever people go these days,” Forest said. “If we plan and take care of our emotional wellbeing every day, then the impact of having a slightly longer semester without that full week off won’t be as negatively impacting on the body.”
To prevent burnout from a long virtual semester, Forest said that developing a consistent sleep schedule and pursuing safe activities outside of class can add balance and relieve student stress. Recreation and Wellness has countless resources available for students who are on campus and at home including group fitness classes, Esport leagues and virtual events like RECreate Your Night.
“Imposing some structure on your day and time but also building in breaks and times to relax, times to call friends, time to go out for a walk, taking care (of yourself), hobbies, are really, really important,” said Forest.
For self help, Caballero said she has been taking walks around her neighborhood with her mom to get out of the house. Caballero is also a member of club volleyball and Barkada, the College’s Filipino community organization. She said planning Zoom meetings and safe in-person events has kept her busy.
Caballero said she has to be extra careful of seeing people because she is immunocompromised and that the lack of human interaction has taken a big toll on her mental health, especially during the fall semester.
“I couldn’t get out of bed. I literally just stayed in bed, (had) Zoom classes, didn’t eat like anything,” she said. “I was just depressed because I just couldn’t talk to anybody because I’m an only child too.”
During the summer, Caballero explained that freshmen created group chats on GroupMe to meet each other and stay in touch, but they were eventually shut down by the College because students sent offensive messages to the groups.
The College has a commitment to challenging bias, prejudice and discrimination, according to a follow-up email from Grecia Montero, Executive Director of Admissions. Montero said a small number of students posted disparaging messages that do not reflect the institution’s values.
“We reserve the ability to rescind offers of admission and this is not limited to academic performance but also those of integrity, character and principle,” Montero said.
“My phone would always be blowing up and always have somebody to talk to because there’s 600 people in that chat, and then it got shut down and it was kind of like, ‘Oh, well. What do I do now?’” Caballero said.
Caballero said she feels disconnected from both her peers and her professors. She said her First Seminar Program class would have had a party at the end of the fall semester, so she is missing out on the smaller memories on campus.
“We’re disconnected, in total, like even from other students and stuff like that too,” Caballero said. “It’s weird because you could be in a breakout room with somebody and then they’ll just not talk at all. And if you’re in real life, that’s just weird, like you’re not just going to do that.”
Even though she stays in touch with friends online, Caballero said she still longs for the small things about being on a campus.
“If we’re on campus, I don’t need to be going out every night, and I don’t need to be… going to a party all of the time,” Caballero said. “I would just walk around with somebody, get some food. Just little things like that I kind of feel like I’m missing out on.”
As the spring semester continues and students make the most out of their remote environment despite the changing process of learning during a pandemic, the community continues to hope that the class of 2025 will have more luck with their first year experience this upcoming fall.