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What is Normal? Capturing Upperclassmen Stories of Campus Chaos

Anna Baugham | Photo by Diana Jaber | The Wright State Guardian

Anna Baugham | Photo by Diana Jaber | The Wright State Guardian

Wright State University’s main campus is usually a bustling learning community. The fall semesters of 2018 and 2019 were standard for incoming students. New WSU Raiders got a chance to experience the thrill of Fall Fest, the beauty of every leaf changing color, and sugar-fueled study sessions and game nights at the beloved Bridge Café.

Current juniors and seniors at Wright State have dealt with more than any other graduating class since starting their degrees. Between the faculty strike in January 2019 and the rise of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, it seems these students cannot catch a break.

Faculty strike impacts students

Tensions between the university union and administration mounted during the fall 2018 semester, and quite a few students took note.

“There was a lot of build up and speculation in the first semester,” said senior nursing major Bailey Eickholt of the campus grapevine.

Once the strike began in January 2019, the then-freshmen and sophomores were split on how things changed. Only the professors in the union and those supporting the strike needed to change their curricula.

Lyndsi Thompson, another senior nursing student, remembered half of her schedule turning upside down.

Lyndsi Thompson, another senior nursing student, remembered half of her schedule turning upside down.

“In organic chemistry, [we] learned the first lesson three times,” Thompson said.

She recalled that one of the substitutes, an adjunct professor of the chemistry department, was well-versed in teaching the lesson. The class was later supervised by an unqualified teacher.

Amber Sanders, junior human services student, recalls being uncertain at first whether she and her classmates would lose their professors.

Once the strike ended, the campus community was relieved. No one could predict what would happen a year later.

Wright State responds to pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic will be remembered as one of the most historical events of this generation due to its catastrophic impact on the world. 2020 started with the knowledge of a dangerous virus in China, which only escalated. By the end of January, the United States and other countries saw cases occurring.

WSU announced that students would be remote after spring break once the virus had spread to Ohio. On March 13, WSU extended remote learning to the rest of the semester.

“All of a sudden, we just didn’t come back,” Anna Dunn, senior marketing student said.

She vividly remembers a conversation with her friends debating the seriousness of the situation. Because many of those students were seniors, speculation quickly turned to “Wouldn’t it be crazy if we just, like, never had class together again?”, Dunn said.

Getting a break from normal was desirable before people realized how long it would last.

The struggle is real

“At first, I was happy [for the break] because I was exhausted. After spring break, it was good. But then I thought, ‘now what am I gonna do?!’” said senior Spanish major Michael ‘MD’ Curtis. He and others felt immediate effects of social distancing and isolation.

Senior Megan McKarns had been active on campus in the Latino Affairs community and involved with church activities. The sudden switch to entirely remote courses and little opportunity to socialize safely took a toll on her.

“I hate online. I’m such a social person!” McKarns said.

“I student teach once a week. I have to go in [to school], but the kids are at home, and we are trying to teach twenty-five kids first grade math over Zoom!” Sydney Hendricks, a junior early childhood education major, said.

She explains how it is hard enough to teach children new concepts in the classroom, and now technology glitches and lack of preparedness on the part of some kids and parents complicate it further.

Whether a student is five or twenty-five, online school is a new learning curve for everyone.

Nursing students get more than they bargained for

The required interactive and manipulative work in nursing courses has made remote lessons especially difficult for nursing students. Thompson named Nursing 2100 as a class she found particularly challenging.

“[It] was the hardest to learn basic hands on skills,” Thompson said.

“Labs and clinicals need to be interactive and cannot wait for a better semester,” said Anna Baugham, a senior nursing student.

“Labs and clinicals need to be interactive and cannot wait for a better semester,” said Anna Baugham, a senior nursing student.

Baugham explained that necessary skills such as placing IVs and taking a patient’s blood pressure must be mastered during this time.

Students make efforts to stay positive amid the chaos, but there are still things they miss about the good old days.

Not people-y enough

Despite the critical need for social distancing, students make efforts to stay positive and look for the good in their situations.

“All my Christian campus groups love to bring in new freshmen and students in general, so actually my social life and the clubs I’m in have been better because a lot of people are in the same boat,” Baugham said.

Hendricks misses her pre-coronavirus social life but finds that her ‘me time’ has increased.

“[My biggest challenge] personally has been not being around people. But several bonus opportunities have come from the extra time. I’ve been able to catch up on school; I used to not have time to eat! During the day I can take coffee breaks and see my friends, and I can pick up my siblings from school,” Hendricks said.

“It’s the social interaction I miss,” said Curtis. Despite having lived at home his whole time in college, moving to the basement for classes instead of heading to campus every day has gotten old fast.

Everyday challenges amidst a looming pandemic harm students’ mental health.

Coronavirus and Mental Health

Mental health and illness are common topics surrounding the pandemic as frequently as concerns for physical health. Being isolated and living with uncertainty and fear weighs down on people.

“I’m learning since March to talk about my feelings. I felt a lot of emotions for the seniors…but I wouldn’t let other people see my emotions,” said Hendricks.

Sanders stayed home for the spring 2020 semester to take care of her mental health.

“[It] was no better but no worse at home,” she said.

Now she is glad to be back on campus.

“I needed a break from family and to get more independence,” Sanders said.

The uncertainty of the pandemic and the added stress of looming graduation and jobs have students’ futures hanging in the balance. There is also longing for what might have been.

What is the new normal?

“It feels like I’ve never had a normal year and I never will,” Curtis said.

Thompson echoed this statement, lamenting the fact that half of every school year seems to go awry.

“Just give me one normal spring semester and I’ll be happy! But, next semester doesn’t look promising,” said Thompson.

This is concerning in terms of coursework and in navigating the job search once college is finished.

“I know what I want to do, so I don’t worry about finding a job, but what the timeline will be. The lack of networking and internship opportunities and graduating into a recession are what concern me,” McKarns said.

Students are working meticulously to push through the consequences of these semesters, but it is the Raider Pride in every WSU student that will get them where they want to be.

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