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‘We’re making it work’ Students Reflect on First Semester Back

The campus community is now wrapping up the 11th week of classes— almost an entire semester of going to classes in person. Back in the fall of 2019, this would not be something newsworthy, but after more than a year and half of disrupted lives and online/hybrid classes, 11 weeks of uninterrupted, face-to-face class time is quite the accomplishment.

However, the way we learned as a society during the pandemic became a habit; it became normal. Students got used to logging on to Zoom every morning and fell out of the routine of leaving their house or dorm to make their way to class every day. Four students and a professor on campus detailed their experiences with being back in person, now that we are officially in the thick of it, and described how it has affected their work-life balance as well as their mental and emotional health.

Most students have been ecstatic to be back in person: being able to see professors and friends in person has been a luxury that was hard to live without. Besides the positive effects on mental health, junior Paul DiNicolantonio noted the practical aspects that are easier in person, such as communication between professors and students.

Even freshmen, like Maddy Lockwood who was 16 when the pandemic began, have enjoyed getting to know their peers; Lockwood says this especially applies since being online in high school was difficult for her. “I didn’t do as well in school when it was online,” she said, and she made sure to take all of her classes in person this semester to kickstart her motivation. For Lockwood, the lack of structure in virtual learning was not something that she adapted to well.

Some students, however, admitted to missing the flexibility of online classes. Sophomore journalism major Sam Chapman said that, although in-person classes have gone better than he anticipated, he still misses the ease of learning virtually. “I sound spoiled, but I took for granted how easy it was to turn on my camera, as opposed to actually driving to [school] and sitting in a classroom. Online classes definitely changed my school habits,” he admitted, “and now I have to undo all of them.”

But for most students, the real adjustment has been the amount of time in-person classes consume compared to virtual classes — especially those classes that were asynchronous. Homework definitely took up more of people’s time during the pandemic, but now school is back to being homework combined with going to lectures that can be hours in length. It’s not like there weren’t lectures during virtual learning, but a side effect was that it was easier to do asynchronous lectures faster by putting them on an increased speed, or even to zone out during Zoom lectures. Chapman noted that classes on Zoom felt a lot more casual, and the uncharted territory of virtual learning led to more skipped classes or multitasking to do other work while attending online lectures.

Additionally, after a year and a half of being able to spend full days without leaving your house once, having to go to classes (especially for commuters) has been difficult. Chapman explained how parking has been a major inconvenience, and he misses pandemic times when the parking lots were empty. DiNicolantonio also had the same complaint. “But it’s been more difficult in that you have to plan time to commute and you don’t have the flexibility to plan appointments and work around just being at home,” he said.

The positives of in-person learning always come with the negatives as well. The act of being present in a classroom filled with other students and having to participate has been a lot to jump back into all at once, on top of all of the homework and assignments to do on a daily basis. Burnout has been a hot topic of discussion lately, with more students being vocal and open about the amount of stress they have faced this semester, and how nonstop work has led to feelings of all-consuming exhaustion.

Although the consensus is mixed, most students feel at least a little more mentally exhausted after attending classes than when they had mostly virtual classes throughout 2020. Senior Jasmine Thomas, a biology major on the pre-med track, said, “I have been a little more stressed. Since things have been going back in person, there has been way more work and extracurriculars are back as well.”

Lockwood also mentioned feeling a little burnt out at times. “It’s easy to be burnt out if you aren’t sleeping and you’re letting work consume you: you have to be okay with not being productive at times,” she said.

A silver lining in the fog of stress and worry have been the professors at Canisius. All four students made sure to mention how accommodating and understanding their professors have been through everything. Most are okay with extended deadlines and accepting late work, knowing that times are still tough for most students.

It’s important to note that professors have also had to transition from making all of their curriculum for a virtual audience back to teaching in person. Dr. Melissa Wanzer, a Communication Department professor, is fully in person this semester and is teaching Research Methods, Relational Communication and Social Media Effect as well as a section of First Year Experience.

Dr. Wanzer has noticed great attendance and participation in her classes; although masks have been a continued obstacle to in-person learning, she says she is happy to be back. With teaching on Zoom, “There were a lot of hassles,” she said, and she mentioned technological issues with Zoom and how patient and kind her students were when she struggled. Now that she is back, she finds that the human connection is something that really can’t be replicated online.

“We all got in the habit of going to Zoom and not having to leave your house and wearing sweatpants every day. It is more effort now to come in person, but it’s also more rewarding to be able to come and finally hear people laughing and talking again,” Wanzer said.

As for the future, students differ in what they’d like to see. Some are happy being finally back in person, and some, like DiNicolantonio, would like to see more hybrid options in the future, especially for upperclassmen and commuters who have other activities like work and internships.

But for all that the student body has gone through in the last year and a half, it feels amazing to be back together, whether that’s in classes, in clubs or in the library. Thomas summed it up, saying, “My time at Canisius has flown by, I am thankful I got to experience at least one normal year and a new normal. I would not trade it for anything.”

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