COVID takes its toll on the college expereince


Photo courtesy of Frank Fitzgibbons

In a sparsely populated classroom, USD students remain COVID-safe with social distancing and masking.

COVID has taken a massive toll on colleges and universities over the past year. Matt Briel, theology professor at Assumption University in Worcester, MA; Elizabeth Valley, freshman at the University of Minnesota; and Frank Fitzgibbons, senior political science and criminal justice major at the University of South Dakota, have all struggled through this pandemic year.

Valley and Fitzgibbons have tried to stay afloat in this challenging new environment, and Briel has done his best as a professor best to maintain the fragile relationship with his students in these times of distance.

It’s been a hard run for everyone through the pandemic with the connections between students and teachers being forced to evolve. Students and professors alike can testify that COVID has changed the way time is spent together and this has been an overwhelming challenge. “The worst thing is that it’s really been a break in intimacy, you don’t get to spend time the same way…I think that’s really hard for undergraduates where friendship is so important…It’s a real break in the possibility for human connection and communion. ” Briel said.

Freshmen and sophomores have undoubtedly been dealt the worst cards as they’ve missed out on much of their college life. “The social interaction would have been hindered more for sophomores and freshman,…because you’re meeting a lot of new people at college freshman and sophomore year…you’re definitely exposed to a lot more people that you don’t know…to socially interact while still meeting COVID guidelines can be a little more awkward,” Fitzgibbons said.

Briel’s university has taken COVID very seriously with a requirement for the faculty being two COVID tests a week, one week of quarantine post travelling, daily symptom trackers, and more rules that if broken can result in serious punishments, even so severe as termination or expulsion. “Let’s say you miss your COVID test and you didn’t have your ID on you, you could get fired, they give you three strikes and you’re out…they’re not going to do it, it’s just the fear-mongering,” Briel said.

As far as learning goes, online classes have been life-changing in both negative and positive ways depending on who you ask. The spotlight that is put on a student when they are in an online class is so intimidating that it comes in the way of their education.“People are less interactive on zoom… I’d probably say that currently, that is the biggest hindrance to education,” Fitzgibbons said.

Many students would agree with the fact that universities should have incorporated more hybrid classes to create a more supportive learning environment. “Generally what most colleges did is they went strictly online and in my opinion, I don’t find that to be the best way of learning, it’s not a proper learning environment. In the classroom I think is the best possible way to learn and I think a lot of colleges refuse to do that which isn’t necessarily wrong but can hinder a lot of students. I think they should’ve done more to make hybrid classes possible at the very least,” Fitzgibbons said.

Social life for college students has also changed drastically as they have learned to adjust to keep each other safe while still maintaining some sort of community. “I think this year we were really robbed of any social life,…we have a curfew of 10 and you can’t have anyone else in the dorms and I totally understand that being social right now is something that … it’s harder with everything,” Valley said.

Beyond social and educational struggles COVID also halted other opportunities for college students. Many college students were banking their studies on classes or trips that are no longer possible with the presence of COVID. “I was planning on studying abroad in Ireland over the summer which didn’t happen and that hindered a lot of things I wanted to do,” Fitzgibbons said.

The same is true for their professors. “Papers are a big deal. I’m supposed to go to conferences and meet with other professors from around the world and have conversations with them, and I’m not able to do that anymore,” Briel said.

Overall college this year has been unlike any other as these three can testify to, hopefully, college next year offers more opportunities for a community bond within the college body. “I personally am hopeful that the situation will get so much better that most of these restrictions will be gone next year,” Briel said.