by Jette-Mari Anni
Last Thursday afternoon, North Central College President Troy Hammond sent out an email announcing all classes would move to online only, and students were advised to move out of their dorms to protect our community from COVID-19. The whole week, professors had started each class with updates on what information they’ve been given and what they predicted to happen in the next couple of days. Until Thursday, the popular opinion was that a shutdown wasn’t a question of if, but when. With other major higher education institutions like Purdue University, Notre Dame, Indiana University, Illinois State, and Northwestern closing their campuses, the inevitable reached us.
I had just called my mother in Europe and told her they still hadn’t announced anything, so I didn’t know what to do. I have a family here that I can live with, but I didn’t want to be a burden. After the phone call, I decided to take a nap, and I woke up to my roommate busting open all the closet doors in our room and shouting at her phone. Within an hour half, our stuff was crammed into the few boxes we had in our room for when summer break came around. We also live on the international floor of our dorm where students are all nervous about what the rest of the semester would look like. It’s important to keep in mind that shut downs are taken as a step of precaution and not because things are bad. There have been no cases of the virus on our campus.
As I went to what I realized would be my last in-person class for the rest of the semester, I saw students either excited as if summer came early, or nervously talking on their phones. Many of them had plastic bags with them, which seemed unusual. As I tried to quickly grab lunch, I realized students were trying to use up all of their bonus bucks, which is credit that can be used for mostly dining and coffee on campus, as well as in our small convenience store. Our coffee shop was impossible to enter as students stood in a longest queue with their arms and tiny carts filled with granola bars and coffee bottles. It seemed as if the community had crashed. Our inboxes did, too, as emails from different departments, advisors, clubs, and professors kept coming in every other minute.
I talked to a few people, and many seniors were worried about graduation. Others said they have a hard time keeping themselves accountable, so studying from home will be a challenge. The biggest concern was on-campus jobs and teaching jobs at other schools that are also being closed. A junior was worried about going home to Indiana because her hometown has more confirmed cases of COVID-19, and a group of male students said they are going to stay as long as sports teams announce their plans, hoping their practices will continue as planned (all athletics have since been cancelled). Almost all of these conversations ended with them giving me a thumbs up or with a wave, saying the same words: “Good luck with the rest of the semester.”
My last class started with our professor introducing us to his idea of the syllabus, and asking our input to make this shift easier for us. Many professors initially thought about giving many little assignments to make up for the lost connection, but from a students’ perspective, it often came across as penalties for something we had no control over. I was mostly surprised about how many students had still showed up, however, by the time our small break between class and lab time ended, only about ten of us remained.
Many were also discussing cases where professors had given extra credit to those who came to class. Some had even assigned homework for those who chose to not attend. This created a strong response in many of the students, since a week earlier, the college has issued a modified attendance policy permitting students to miss class when worried about their health and the global situation, without receiving penalty on their grades. Although the policy insisted students inform their professors and encouraged regular attendance, extra assignments felt to many as injustice and violation of that policy.
As I talked to my peers, the conflict remained a topic of conversation: excitement about getting to stay at home and the promises of easier grading, yet worry and anxiety over the bigger situation and how this shift will affect the rest of the semester in reality. It’s too early to say how the situation will affect our academic progress, but it’s evident North Central College is taking the necessary steps to prevent any harm to the community of international students, and to make it the easiest transition as possible for all students.