If you are a returning student, campus may look a little different than you remember last semester. Students are not attending the same institution they were forced to leave earlier this year — we are now re-entering TU in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, the university has implemented new policies affecting the academic and social atmospheres alike.
The new restrictions have affected daily life for students and faculty alike. In the dorms, decreased student interaction has rendered the halls, study lounges, common rooms and restrooms virtually empty. No one is allowed inside students’ private rooms, although students may continue to gather in the common areas of residential buildings in small groups. Community-style dorms have reduced residents to half capacity by single-bunking every student. With every door in the residential halls closed, the communal aspect in the community-style dorms is gone.
There are mixed feelings about this arrangement amongst the students. On the upside, students concerned over a potentially bad roommate experience are not complaining. However, it sure isn’t easy to make friends. Students have resorted to knocking on each door on their floor in order to actually meet people.
Not only is attempting to meet our neighbors challenging, but our ability to interact with one another during class has been inhibited as well. On campus, classes fall into one of the four categories: in-person, hybrid, online synchronous or online asynchronous. The in-person portion of class consists of desks spaced six feet apart, leaving you unable to communicate with anyone around you without causing disruption. Online synchronous classes meet using Zoom, Blackboard Collaborate or Microsoft Teams where communication with fellow classmates is limited to text-based chat and occasional randomized group discussions.
The limited connections we can achieve through these online formats, however, is the best case scenario. We have already experienced wireless connectivity issues and a national Zoom outage the first day of class. As for asynchronous classes, peers lack the ability to meet in the class setting at all. Online classes critically impact the relationship between professor and student, and may potentially hinder students’ learning capabilities in that subject. Online learning is not as effective for many students as in-person instruction, frustrating those who struggle with the online platforms. Professors are discovering their own challenges in converting their instruction and assignments online.
If you are one of the students who applied to housing around the Pat Case Dining Center, you are likely disappointed with the university’s decision to relocate the cafeteria dining to the Student Union. A policy of less physical interaction has influenced a few design changes within the Student Union, including lunch tables with single person seating, specially designated entrances and exits and floor stickers indicating social distancing in lines. Students are showing more likelihood to sit outside in close proximity with small groups, rather than sit inside and “yell across the room,” as communication between the distanced tables is commonly described by students. The institution now utilizes a mobile ordering app in order to decrease the wait time for students standing in line and avoid close physical interactions. While seating arrangements within the Student Union are not popular, the convenience of the mobile ordering app certainly is appreciated amongst students and faculty alike.
Among other unpopular changes to the campus lies the new hours for the McFarlin Library and its former 24-hour a day computer lab. The university has restricted the library’s hours from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Monday to Thursday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday. While the library is closed on the weekend, students can still access the computer lab seven days a week, from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Students now have a new responsibility, to complete a Campus Check In/Check Out form on the Power App that is required at the entrance and exit of any building on campus, as part of the university’s student tracking system. This system will be utilized when a student is confirmed to have contracted COVID-19, in order to notify students who may have come into contact with the infected student throughout the day. This comes at an inconvenience to students who do not want to deal with additional complexities related to the virus, especially making a task such as entering or leaving a building that much more complicated. The form requires students to list the building they are entering and take their temperature when they are entering and departing. The institution did take the initiative to provide every student with a thermometer, as well as some washable masks, inside their orientation bag during student move-in and orientation.
Consistent with higher educational facilities across the nation, TU is no exception to the ban of on and off campus parties, which is a major disappointment to those coming to campus seeking the “full college experience.” This restriction is upsetting to students nationally, and many are seeking ways around it. Off campus parties are one of many sources of COVID-19 outbreaks across the U.S., causing countless college and university shut downs in the past month. Students here on campus have seen the consequences of those who do not follow the recently implemented regulations, and are remaining physically distant as well as wearing masks when unable to do so.
Masks are required to be worn by the university, which means recognizing friendly faces is just as difficult as attempting to put names to them. In response to social distancing policies, the university has dedicated its staff to helping students connect with one another to create a socially enriching atmosphere, not only an academic one. With their assistance, many events during new student orientation and throughout the first week of the semester were held online. To create accommodating socially interactive events during orientation, several were held outside where students could distance themselves safely while achieving increasingly sought-after social interaction. These events contained a maximum limit of people that could join during each shift, which helped to limit potential physical interaction.
The activity fair was also held online last week, allowing students to see how to get involved at the university. Greek life recruitment is another beloved campus experience that was hindered by the online process it was forced to adopt. Without the interpersonal connections being formed face to face, and the excitement of rushing with fellow classmates, the recruitment process looked and felt different this semester. Junior Savannah Sinclair, member of the sorority Kappa Alpha Theta describes the process, “We overall had issues with low numbers, not as many girls rushing as we normally would have had. There were also occasional technical issues, whether a lack of internet connection or poor quality with videos being shown.” Most campus affiliated organizations are feeling the effects of the pandemic and the resulting restrictions against gatherings and close contact. Fortunately, the university staff and students are working together to find ways around these regulations to keep students involved.
Students may believe the university is being unnecessarily cautious and overreacting over the spread of the virus. However, these restrictions and guidelines, albeit strict, are critical in keeping students, faculty and staff healthy. While several are inconvenient, they are all necessary. We all have a responsibility to ourselves and each other to stop the spread of the virus and keep our campus open, even if that means sacrificing our stereotypical idea of the college experience.
The university’s COVID-19 statistics can be found online at https://utulsa.edu/coronavirus/statistics/. The dashboard will update on a weekly basis to actively report the amount of tests conducted, confirmed cases and students in quarantine or self-isolation.