College students throughout New England disrupted by COVID-19 pandemic

They reflect on how it was handled, how it affected them, and what’s to come.

By: Nicole Yeager & Essie Plouffe – 1851 Contributors

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The spring semester is always a busy, stressful, but exciting time on college campuses. March brings warmer weather, spring sports season openers, and for seniors, commencement seems like it’s looming right around the corner.


But, this past March was different. 

March began the start of a long, emotional and stressful period of time for humanity as the world began to adapt to the COVID-19, commonly called coronavirus, outbreak. College students were displaced and forced to switch to online schooling in the matter of just a few days. As many students have never experienced online learning, emotions were high as professors began to transition classes with either a decreased or increased workload. 

However, this new virtual learning experience was not free of other stress-inducing factors. College students were forced to navigate moving back home, cancellations of spring sports, loss of internship or jobs, and the postponement or cancellation of senior week events and commencement. 

When COVID-19 first started to cause concern, students were left wondering what was next for them and their institutions. Colleges and universities around the country announced their spring semester decisions in various different ways, formats, and phases of decisions. This led to the spread of rumors and false information, putting stress on the students with this fear of the unknown.

“They did not say anything for a very long time,” said Claire Harrison, Brown University senior. “A lot of places had not gone online for the full semester so then those rumors were kind of freaking everyone out.”

As institutions began to create task forces in order to streamline communication with students about their decisions regarding the COVID-19 outbreak. While many relayed these messages through their social media accounts or email, typically from the school president or provost, Rhode Island College put it on professors to relay information and decisions.

“Anything that was up in the air, they didn’t really address,” said Rhode Island College senior, Darian Simas. “They put it on our professors to describe what was going on.”

Despite how decisions were made and announced, students found themselves heading home to take classes online for the remainder of their spring terms. The transition to online classes has been difficult for professors and students alike, but many students have explained how everyone’s experience has been different. 

Course loads have either shrunk and became a lot easier or grown and expectations are higher. Noah Johnson, a junior from Gordon College, is finding positives in his experience with online learning, while many of his colleagues are struggling through the process. 

“I would say I definitely got the best in this, whereas I don’t have as much work as I would’ve had if we were in class,” said Johnson. “However, I have friends that are getting a lot more work as they are trying to supplement for the learning experience that they are not going to be able to have now.”

While students continue to struggle with the transition, many have found their professors to be more lenient and understanding than ever before. 

“My professors have been super accommodating with very flexible due dates, always available to talk if you need anything,” said junior at Regis College, Nikolette Papadopoulos. “They are willing to talk via Zoom during class if students feel like they are struggling with something or feel that they’re not in the right headspace to get things done.”

Motivation to complete assignments and projects is at an all time low for students nothing seems beneficial or useful not that everything has changed. This academic headspace is difficult to find as it’s hard for students to not focus on what they have lost beyond the in-person classroom learning environment. 

Beyond academics, spring student-athletes have found themselves thrown into an entirely new routine they have never experienced in the spring. While many decisions for colleges and universities were made around their spring break times, many teams were away for their spring training trips. 

“We were on our spring break trip down in southern Pennsylvania and received an email about halfway through our last game,” said Johnson, a member of Gordon’s men’s lacrosse team. 

For senior student-athletes, they experienced the heartbreak of playing their final games and not even knowing it. As professional leagues began to cancel seasons, it became a waiting game for the announcement that NCAA spring seasons would be cancelled.

“I remember just looking at our assistant coach and being like, ‘the NBA got cancelled, we’re all screwed,” said senior Bryant University women’s lacrosse Co-Captain Maggie Pressler. “It was painful, but we all saw the writing on the wall.”

The NCAA has since granted student-athletes their years of eligibility back and seniors have begun to decide if they wish to use that year and experience their final seasons. As these unprecedented times make it harder to plan for the future, many have decided to attend graduate school and play despite not having the rest of their senior class.

As spring seasons end and academics begin to wind down, senior week and commencement are the next biggest events on college campuses. With students being sent home and practicing social distancing, these events could not run as planned and were forced to change and adapt. Colleges and universities all made different announcements and decisions around either a virtual ceremony or  postponing or cancelling all together. 

“URI sent out an email to all the seniors and made us fill out a survey,” said University of Rhode Island senior Anthony Corrente. “It was either online, a later date in the fall, or a fill in option.”

Surveys were common as colleges and universities realized students should be involved in the decision regarding their graduation and academic recognition. However, it is apparent that a late date in the fall may also be in jeopardy as states continue to have social distancing practices and shelter in place orders in effect. Despite this, colleges and universities have started to be more transparent while communicating with their students as they begin to plan their academics and housing for the coming fall semester amidst the uncertainty

“We got an email recently about what could possibly happen moving forward in the fall [at Regis],” said Papadopoulos. “As much as it hurts me to think about the idea that we might not be on campus in fall, I do really appreciate that Regis has mentioned it.”

In a time of uncertainty, all these college students are looking for is transparency over what’s to come. While the fall semester may not be guaranteed, students are asking their schools to wait to make that decision due to the fear of cancelling too soon. Until then, they will keep their hopes up to get back to school in the fall and return back to normality, once again. 

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