“I am so sorry. It makes me so sad about our seniors and the people who have worked so hard for this degree,” Jamie McCartney, an assistant professor and program coordinator for the ASL/English Interpreting program, said. “I’m so sorry for them that graduation is postponed. I probably won’t see some of my students ever again because they're not from Ohio and that makes me sad … Some people are not gonna be able to go where they could have ... and their final experience, their final practicum has been completely changed. Some of them did not get the experience that they needed or wanted and should have had, and in that regard I am sorry to them for that. That grieves me.”
The coronavirus pandemic turned life upside down for everyone from business owners to health care workers—everyone is feeling the effects of this virus and the 34,545 students enrolled across Kent State University’s eight campuses are no exception.
On March 10, Kent State announced it would suspend in-person classes at all of its campuses until April 12 because of the coronavirus. The university “strongly encouraged” students to return home if possible.
Days later on March 13, Kent State announced it would be suspending face-to-face classes on all campuses for the remainder of the spring semester.
Students who left their dorms by March 30 would receive “an appropriate refund” for their rooms and meal plans, according to the email from Kent State University President Todd Diacon.
The university would work with students who could not return home on an individual basis, according to the email. A limited number of residences halls and dining halls remained open for these students.
As time progressed, Ohio’s number of coronavirus cases continued to rise and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine ordered bars and restaurants to close, among other things, as social distancing protocols and stay-at-home orders became more of a reality.
Along with this, Kent State made more announcements regarding its future plans including a virtual commemoration of the 50th anniversary of May 4, remote instruction through July 29, the cancellation of all activities, events, summer camps and conferences sponsored by the university in the summer and the postponement of spring commencement.
HOW ARE STUDENTS FEELING?
While the announcement of online learning appeared as a celebration to some, other students quickly began to worry about their grades and how they will finish the rest of the semester online. The coronavirus pandemic has put Kent State students in an unusual situation regarding their finances, health, academics and relationships.
Managing the stress of the coronavirus pandemic can take a significant toll on a person’s mental health and general well-being. The CDC provided several resources for managing stress and mental health during this time, something college students are struggling with.
Kristen Patterson, a junior exploratory major, said she broke down in tears when she heard the news about classes. Patterson has four children at home and said she felt upset and panicked. She also prefers in-person classes.
“This has affected my mental health the most,” Patterson said. “I have anxiety and depression and this situation has agitated both of them.”
Sophomore entrepreneurship major Caitlin Anderson said she felt anxious over all the COVID-19 news and very on edge about returning to campus in the fall.
“It's terrible with nothing being open and having to self isolate,” Anderson said. “There was a lot that went uncompleted at school, and I may never get a chance to complete some things.”
Kathleen Smart, a senior communication studies major, never thought COVID-19 would significantly impact the U.S. after the initial outbreak in Wuhan, China.
“At our age, you tend to think nothing can stop you, and COVID-19 has proved us all incredibly wrong,” she said.
As a junior, Smart was excited to finally be enrolled in classes that apply directly to her major. After the announcement that in-person classes would be transferred online, she was disappointed the semester would end that way.
“I just turned 21 and was starting to be able to go out downtown with my closest friends and had travel plans in place for spring break that were no longer possible,” she said. “I quickly realized that my junior year was coming to a screeching halt.”
In addition to academic and social concerns, college students also face uncertainty regarding career paths as they begin job searches.
“I also had an internship in place in Florida this summer which I’m now uncertain will remain,” Smart said.
Although there is merit in thinking positively, Smart, like many others, is facing emotional struggle.
“I feel an overwhelming sense of frustration and anger,” she said. “And while I know this isn’t a popular take, I just can’t help but see what has been taken from us and there isn’t anything we can do about it.”
The rapid spread of COVID-19 has left many uncertain for the future, and this uncertainty is heightened for those finishing college and beginning their careers.
“Being a young student, getting ready to start our adult lives makes this even more difficult because if we didn’t already have enough uncertainty, we now truly know what it means to be completely unaware of what the future holds,” she said.
Many businesses are temporarily shut down to help contain the virus, which has left many people out of a job. Cora Smith, a senior international relations major, lost both of her jobs in retail and food service in her hometown and on campus.
Along with financial losses, Smith also lost the opportunity to spend the final moments with her friends on campus.
“...It was so sudden that there were students that I didn’t get to say goodbye to,” Smith said. “This was their last semester so they’d gone home to their home countries, and I won’t see them again.”
Despite her personal struggles, Smith deeply worries about her parents who are older.
“My dad has to work to support us and he’s really nervous about getting [the virus],” she said. “His health isn’t very good anymore.”
Carrie DeHoff, a sophomore computer science major, is concerned about her own health because she is high risk due to dysautonomia and POTS. These conditions affect her heart and blood pressure which make her immunocompromised.
She visited the hospital during quarantine to figure out the cause for the pain she experiences with no solution in the end.
The health issues she faces means she must be extremely careful in regard to her health. For example, while her family moved her belongings out of her dorm in Clark Hall, she sat in the car with a mask on.
“I’ve been self-isolating, and it’s been lonely but I’ve been keeping up with friends and FaceTiming,” she said.
The transition to online classes is another issue she deals with.
“It’s really, really hard because I’m really more of a face-to-face learner,” DeHoff said. “I also have ADHD, so it’s really bad since I’m at home and there’s so many distractions and I can’t focus because there’s not a classroom situation or environment that will force me to do my work. It’s been really hard, but I’m getting there.”
Mason Lawlor, a junior journalism major, also feels it is challenging to stay motivated when working from home.
“We go through the feeling of the semester ending, but we still have half a semester to go,” Lawlor said. “It’s difficult because it feels like we should be done with school.”
He feels as if the coronavirus took away some of the personal freedom that comes with being a college student.
“When I first got the news I was pretty frustrated because we’re all college students and we all just want to start to do our own things and live our own lives, and I think that a lot of the purpose of college is being taken away,” Lawlor said.
Another tough transition for students to make is living at home again.
Remi Mikan, a senior international relations major, said she has struggled adjusting to her family’s schedule.
“Normally I don’t eat on Tuesdays and Thursdays around like [noon] because I have a class at that time but my mom’s like, ‘Come down and eat,’ but I’m not hungry,” Mikan said. “It’s so weird trying to eat at their time versus when I normally eat.”
On top of student’s concerns surrounding their health, safety and how they’ll finish the semester academically, many of them had to worry about their living arrangements as well.
Grace Toughill, a sophomore fashion merchandising major, is an out-of-state student who has spent the year living in Dunbar Hall on campus. With new updates on the virus breaking every day, Toughill had to quickly make a plan to fly across the country back home to Arizona.
“I am a very hands-on learner and I don’t thrive in online classes,” Toughill said. “I’m in statistics and am not good with math to begin with and was already struggling in the class, so now moving online is making it harder for me to find motivation and follow along.”
Senior finance major Daysha Blanks lives in Maryland, a six-hour drive from Kent.
The cancellation of all in-person classes and activities on campus put a damper on Blanks’ finances and education.
“The coronavirus has been very upsetting for my current schedule,” she said. “I worked two campus jobs [managing the women’s lacrosse team and at Onestop] while taking 15 credits. I don’t know what's happening for all employees, but one of my jobs was willing to give me pay for the missing weeks.”
Every state and county is handling the pandemic differently. This can cause conflicting instructions to be issued regarding coronavirus. People have a hard time deciding who to listen to in terms of stay-at-home orders and other executive orders.
“We are not currently in lockdown in Maryland, and it is not bad here yet [as of March 21],” she said. “We have emptied out stores just like every other state. We will be in lockdown soon. Fluctuating news is also another stressor [preventing me from] studying and focusing on academics.”
Lenore Hauck, a senior nursing major, lives in Illinois, almost an eight-hour car ride from Kent State.
Upon learning about the virus approaching the Midwest, Hauck was initially concerned about the health of her family and friends.
“[Being a student during] this pandemic makes me feel scared," she said. “I still want to become a nurse, but it makes it very important to help people and assume that they are contagious to protect others. I have close friends who currently work as nursing assistants in hospitals. I worry that they might get sick, but the hospitals need them.”
For Hauck, moving back home meant missing out on celebrating her 21st birthday in Kent with friends. It also meant missing out on in-person instruction.
Her major requires her to attend weekly clinical sessions at a local hospital. The sessions give Hauck the opportunity to shadow a nurse while potentially demonstrating the techniques learned in class on real patients.
“The school is doing their best to keep us stimulated in what we are learning by putting everything online,” she said. “Although there is [only] so much they can do from teaching us online, we lose those physical simulations and clinical practice we all paid for.”
Hauck is understanding toward the university for taking precautions concerning the coronavirus.
“As aggressive as all the students are about this situation, having everyone evacuate is inconvenient, but it's a pandemic,” she said. “If everyone took their leisurely time moving out then that's putting other students around them at risk.”
“It's really hard to be so far from home in a moment like this one,” said Chiara De Arcangelis, a junior biology major from Italy. “Especially since Italy is one of the countries most affected by the virus, and my family and friends live in a high risk zone.”
Not being able to return to their home country to be with friends and family during this time is an additional strain international students have been feeling.
Noor Agustina, a doctorate student of curriculum and instruction from Indonesia, balances taking care of her apartment, her academics, her children and finding her husband a job. Yet, despite the stress, she feels they are becoming closer as a family.
“When we stay home it really feels like we are coming together as a family,” Agustina said. “We can talk. We can pray together. The things we rarely did before, we can do together right now.”
She said going back to her home country during this time is not a viable option.
“Going back to Indonesia, we don’t have a better situation there,” Agustina said. “It’s probably even worse because the healthcare system in Indonesia isn’t as good as in the United States.”
Omar Alabdulhai, a senior computer science major, is an international student from Saudi Arabia.
He lives alone in America while his family lives in Saudi Arabia. He said his isolation from his family and friends makes him feel lonely.
“I don’t know if I’m going to meet my family tomorrow or today or the day after tomorrow,” Alabdulhai said. “So the best thing to do now is to call the person that you love. Call your family every day if you could.”
To combat his loneliness, Alabdulhai keeps himself busy with his hobbies.
“I can play video games for 30 minutes and then I spend an hour doing my homework and then again 30 minutes or an hour playing video games and then studying,” he said. “Plus, I have a hobby of cooking because I am a chef, and I have my own channel on YouTube so I cook and post it on the YouTube channel.”
For Asian students, the problem is larger than loneliness.
Chinese people have experienced stereotyping as a result of the virus, Haoran Sun, a physics graduate student, said. As an international student from China, he saw these ideas perpetuated over social media.
“There are currently rumors that the Chinese eat bats, but from my experience, I studied and lived in that area, they didn’t ever eat a bat,” Sun said. “They eat pork, they eat fish, they eat beef, but they never eat bats.”
These ideas are harmful to Chinese people because they spread false narratives, Sun said.
“Someone crossed the coronavirus and revised that to the Chinese virus,” Sun said. “That’s really bad.”
STUDENTS IN STUDIO/HANDS ON COURSES
Once Kent closed campus for the rest of the semester, students pursuing more artistic degrees were left in a precarious position, unsure of how to move forward. Students in artistic programs are often required to take studio classes to complete their degrees. These classes, which are often long and filled with critiques and time for students to work on their projects, are nearly impossible to recreate in an online classroom. For all art students, this is an uncertain reality they now face for the rest of the current semester and possibly longer.
For Selene Billings, a sophomore digital media production major, not having access to cameras and studio equipment has been the biggest downside.
Maddie O’Keefe, a sophomore studio art major with a focus in painting, said the transition to online learning is “surprisingly not as bad” as she initially thought it would be.
“We’re just working on our projects that the professors either describe to us or prepare a demo for us and then we upload photos of our work to Blackboard,” she said. “Some of my classes are being lenient on using just simpler materials for our art, and in my drawing class, she just kind of expects us to have most of the materials, which I do have them so it worked out fine.”
However, some concentrations, like American Sign Language, are harder to continue via remote instruction.
When communicating using ASL, there is a range known as the signing space which ranges from above the head to a person's waist. The signing space is the full space needed to show the expressions within the language, but with the use of video chats not all of the expressions can be seen.
This is especially true, Mackalla Long, a junior ASL/English interpreting major, said when reflecting on how some of her classes are working virtually.
“We did go on to our first Zoom [session], we had everyone up there,” Long said. “[The way it works is that] it’s lit up when audio happens, not when motion happens naturally, so you really had to search. So if there’s 12 to 13 people in the chat room, you have to be very vigilant on who is signing.”
Students have had to adjust to the type of feedback their professors can offer to them. Long said during in-person classes they were able to ask questions and get immediate feedback from professors, but since moving online, students have continued using a program known as GoReact where they can film themselves signing and professors can watch and leave comments so they can improve.
While students continue to receive feedback from their professors and peers, some of the students are concerned about staying on track and still making sure they are learning all the skills they normally would have been able to practice more in person.
“It’s been really hard on the language aspect because we really need time for our receptive skills, which is watching someone sign, we’re really lacking on that and it’s kinda like we’re on our own in that area,” said Tomara Conner, a senior ASL/English interpreting major. “Some of the students that I have the same ASL class with, we will sit down and we’ll critique each other.”
While adjustments have been made, several students are worried about all of the experiences that they will no longer be able to participate in. One requirement students have is to participate in deaf events put on by local deaf groups so they can practice the language even more.
“There’s a deaf club that I go to often, and they have events at least twice every month on Saturdays, and I always go,” Conner said. “That’s been one of the hardest [things] because our skill is like, if you don’t practice it, if you don’t see it every day, you’re going to lose it.”
“I was shocked and very sad to leave because how much more unorthodox can this first year of college and adulthood be? This is a harsh way to find out the world is a scary place,” Kenneth Drees, a freshman digital media production major, said. “I just want nothing more than to stroll Main Street and get Cane’s Chicken for a shut-in night of studying on campus, and events like this can really emphasize the importance of [not] letting the small things in life pass you by.”
For freshmen, living through the coronavirus pandemic has left them struggling to adjust as they miss out on a full first-year of college experience.
One of the many difficulties in the transition to working from home is working in a full house with multiple family members. For many, this is the first time that everyone has been at home for such an extended period of time. This can make it hard to focus without distractions, for both students and professors.
Some of this jarring difference comes from being thrown out of a routine. Troy Pierson, a sophomore journalism major, said he was finally getting into a good routine during his second semester, until in-person classes were suspended.
“I discovered over the course of these past two semesters that I am a very work centered person, and I consider it really important to be entertained by doing things that are really constructive, especially in environments where I can flourish my mind,” Pierson said. “Going home is really frustrating because all of those things that I was doing on campus were taken away from me.”
Pierson was in the process of organizing a thrift exposition at Kent State and was excited to start on this project. He had sent out emails about getting started the day before remote instruction was introduced.
In addition to starting his own event, Pierson is a copy editor for the Stater and has been doing remote work to continue this work flow. He also worked as a deli employee at Boar’s Head, but will be receiving an abbreviated pay until the end of the semester.
For now, Pierson continues to work from home, but it isn’t always the easiest.
“Working in my room is kind of like working in my dorm, and I never do schoolwork in my dorm,” he said. “Since my family is always rummaging around the house, I feel like I’ve been confined to my room a little bit in terms of coursework.” However, one of his highlights of being home is his family getting together to watch the 6:30 p.m. news every night.
“Being confined to one space kind of makes you reflect on all the things that you had gotten accustomed to,” Pierson said.
Despite the current situation, some students are choosing to view it in a positive light.
“My initial reaction was shock, because I’ve never thought this would get bad, but then it was almost like joy since face-to-face classes give me anxiety sometimes,” Alexander Humphrey, a sophomore physics major, said. “It upsets me knowing I had to leave my friends like this, but I’m really excited for next year.”
When the spring semester started, senior public relations major Jill Golden felt a strong sense of senioritis. But, her feelings toward the remainder of her college experience changed significantly as she recognized the hardships of what some call, “the new normal.”
“It’s frustrating to feel as if school has come to close, when in fact it has not and because of this, I have struggled to find motivation to proceed with my schoolwork,” she said.
With the rapid need to transition to all online course work, students including Golden have recognized the obstacles this has introduced not just for students, but for faculty as well.
“It doesn’t go unnoticed by my peers and I, that professors are also struggling to find ways to transfer content that is meant to be presented in person, to online,” she said.
Aside from academic struggles, Golden has faced hardships in other aspects of her life such as her career and mental health.
As a graduating senior, and in lieu of her job search, Golden emphasized the uncertainty that lies ahead for her and her peers.
“While I was previously hoping to have an idea of where I wanted to work, or at the very least have some job interviews lined up, I now certainly have no open doors for the time being,” she said.
The job search for most seniors has become increasingly grim due to the halt of nonessential business and the current decline of the stock market.
“Everyday I check for new job postings and am quickly recognizing that for the time being, these will be almost nonexistent,” Golden said.
In addition to academic and career path struggles, another aspect that has been increasingly problematic for many college students including Golden, is mental health.
“Although I haven’t had to deal with this for a while, COVID-19 has definitely taken a toll on my anxiety, and it has become more severe during this time,” she said.
Even with the push for a positive attitude, Golden is reminded of her worries, even post-coronavirus era.
“Even though I know things will eventually get better and that this will end one day, I feel as if my fears of large gatherings or events such as concerts or parties once this is all over, will be consumed or impacted by my anxieties,” she said.
While many relieve the impacts of anxiety through remedies like exercise, rest, reading, solitude or music, Golden relies heavily on her loved ones during times of high anxiety.
“It’s really hard right now because I don’t have the ability to be around the people such as my boyfriend or my friends whose presence typically eases these feelings for me,” she said.
In this time of struggle and uncertainty, Golden reminds herself of the importance of looking on the bright side.
“Even with all of the negative, I am pushing myself to think about all the good that will come from this,” she said.
Many are finding peace and a sense of order during this chaotic time through hobbies, decluttering and quality time with loved ones.
Golden emphasized the positives she has experienced and said, “I have had the time I didn’t necessarily have prior to this to deep clean, organize and spend time with my family.”
While Golden does her best to look on the bright side, she recognizes there is a plethora of people that will struggle more than others during this ambiguous time.
“I am so fortunate to have a happy and healthy home where I can spend this time, and my heart goes out to my fellow friends that have struggled financially and emotionally after losing their source of income while balancing financial security, academics and mental health,” she said.
Shelly Dean, a senior visual communication design major, has run into several roadblocks since the campus closure.
“...When school was closed for the remainder of the semester I had a mix of emotions,” she said. “I was stoked for an ‘extended summer’ but still, I knew it wasn’t going to be like that. I was then nervous, especially being in studios.”
Dean is still able to work remotely on her studio courses, but she has recognized that the remote online classwork is still missing something.
”...That in person experience whether it be critiques, demos or simply focusing and working more efficiently when in a classroom or a studio setting, that option and experience is very important,” she said.
Dean is also facing anxieties surrounding how this period of closure and quarantine will ultimately lead to her having to spend even more time to finish her degree. She, along with many other art students who are stuck at home, are without any studio or art space, in general, to complete their projects.
Along with remote learning and the general closing of Kent campus, Kent State’s campus in Florence, Italy was forced to close, sending all of this semester’s students in the study abroad program home much sooner than they planned.
On Feb. 29, students received an email from the Director of the Kent State University Florence Center Fabrizio Ricciardelli stating due to “the rise to a Level 3 Travel Health Notice by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Kent State is requiring all students to return to the United States due to the growing coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis in Italy.”
“I think I was just trying to convince myself like, ‘Oh, it'll blow over and it's gonna go away like they're controlling it. They're taking care of it like it's not a huge deal,’” said Victoria Kessler, a senior fashion merchandising major who was studying abroad in Florence. “I think me and some of my roommates … we were kind of just like, ‘Nobody can make us leave’ … Which obviously they can, but trying to convince ourselves that it wasn't gonna happen was the goal.”
As students made their abrupt return back to the U.S., it was recommended that they participate in a two week self isolation period to ensure they didn’t contract the virus before engaging in their normal contact.
“Before the entire U.S. was on quarantine, there were two weeks where we were told, ‘Don't see anybody because you're coming from Italy, so you’re quarantined for two weeks,’” Kessler said. “As soon as that was [over], the U.S. quarantine started where everybody was told to stay inside, so I haven't seen any of my friends in over a month. Which is crazy to think that I went from this point where I was so happy and alive, to waking up and having my shower be the highlight of my day.”
In their final semester, ASL/English interpreting majors have to complete a practicum that places them in a deaf school or interpreting program.
As many states started to declare a stay-at-home order and close things such as schools, several seniors needed to find a new way to fulfill their practicum requirement.
Abbe Marchetta, a senior ASL/English interpreting major, was able to complete part of her practicum at a middle school in Upper Arlington, Ohio. Marchetta was switching to work at an elementary school in the area when the announcement came out that cancelled in person classes for public schools in Ohio.
“So [the elementary school] shut down for two weeks, we had our spring break and then they shut down for a week and the teachers and the interpreters were all doing training. How to use Zoom, how to best utilize it to teach and we are using Zoom so I follow my interpreter [mentor] schedule, so whenever she is on Zoom I am on Zoom with her and the student,” Marchetta said.
“It is a little bit of a different dynamic and it presents a lot of challenges with the deaf and hard of hearing community and making sure that they have the same access as everyone else is receiving,” she said.
Jaime Corbin, a senior psychology major from Texas, moved back home and said the entire situation has been very stressful.
While the in-person graduation ceremony is postponed until it’s safe to do so, Corbin said even though she lives far away, she would come back for commencement.
“I think no matter what, I'm going to walk the stage,” she said. “It's going to be weird coming back though, because while they might be able to have some form of a commencement, it's not going to be the same.”
Corbin said when she got the news classes would be cancelled for the rest of the semester she just started crying because she knew her college experience was over.
“I really wish I could go back,” she said. “I don’t care if it's my three hour lecture, I want to go sit through my three hour lecture and work to not fall asleep. I want those little things back because I didn't get to do my last couple months of appreciating. I've definitely told all the undergrads to please appreciate their classes, I know they suck but I've never wanted to go to a lecture so badly in my life. Which is the weirdest thing because I hate lectures. I used to do everything I could to get out of going to lecture, but now I want to do everything I can to go to lectures.”
Kent State professors have also had to prepare for the transition to online learning, some of them experiencing teaching an online course for the first time.
Instructor Chelsea Reed teaches both PiYo and Barre at Kent State and had to quickly adjust the classes to meet the needs of online learning.
With both classes involving in-person fitness and instructional lessons, Reed had to redesign the structure of both classes for the rest of the semester and has never taught an online course.
“My first thought when I heard everything was going online was sadness,” Reed said. “I love teaching these classes, and I love the students. I also felt terrible for the seniors and athletes that have worked so hard at school and at their respective sports.”
Stephanie Smith, associate professor of journalism and mass communication, has never taught online before. She had to move learning experiences and activities that were designed for in-person and team engagement to an online platform.
With the time window for this transition being almost non-existent, Smith continues to work through the challenges she and other educators have faced and persevere.
“The transition has been very challenging and somewhat exhausting,” Smith said. “But I am learning more about it each day.”
Focused on the well-being of her students, Smith is grateful for the support she has seen from her classes. She said her students have been very patient, helpful and flexible during this time.
After working through the technology struggles that come with online courses, Smith emphasized the benefits of being in a classroom and the face-to-face connection with students that no longer exists.
“What I miss the most is the magic and electricity that comes from teaching face-to-face,” Smith said. “Witnessing their faces and body language when an idea is resonating with them — or when they are rejecting an idea — is very important to me.”
Courses that include high engagement levels, group work or in depth discussions have experienced struggles that other courses may not face.
“I’m fortunate to teach the type of content in which students are constantly exploring provocative, controversial and important ideas,” Smith said. “The discussions and work based around these ideas were what created the community.”
With the new lack of face-to-face interaction, Smith struggled to find ways to uphold this community through an online platform.
“My biggest challenge in the early days of this coronavirus era is building and sustaining community online,” Smith said. “But I am quickly learning that it is not impossible and we can all work together to make it happen.”
Smith commended Kent State for giving students the option of pass/fail course completion.
“I am very grateful that the university, like many others, has given the opportunity of pass/fail so that students have the flexibility to finish the semester as best they can, even under immense pressure and chaos,” Smith said.
In addition to accommodations from the university, Smith is grateful for technology even with the unexpected complications it can bring.
“We should not kid ourselves that technology is saving this semester, but it is allowing us to bring it to an end as best we can,” she said.
Without technology, students would not have the flexibility to complete their semester they worked so hard on for months.
Smith emphasized the need for universal flexibility and understanding as many face additional struggles outside the confines of academia.
“We need to give everybody flexibility because we can't tell what's going to happen to any of us,” Smith said. “This virus is unprecedented and not fully modeled yet so we don't know what could happen and that is why we need full flexibility.”
Even with the immense struggle that comes in every aspect of life during the COVID-19 era, Smith remains optimistic about the future, especially for college students.
“College in the age of coronavirus is going to be a remarkable experience,” Smith said. “It’s different, it’s hard and it’s isolating right now, but every college student is living through history.”
Amidst the obstacles COVID-19 poses, college students and faculty will eventually become aware of the positives generating from the struggle they are currently facing.
“Of course we will still moan over parking tickets and which classes we like and dislike, but those of us coming back to Kent State in the fall will view campus differently,” Smith said. “We will walk it differently.”
Smith wants people to be reminded of the joy that will come upon the reopening of campus.
“The experience we have when we reconvene and gather again will be nothing short of extraordinary and special,” Smith said. “Coronavirus is giving us an enormous opportunity to strip away what is unnecessary and focus on what is really necessary and what is really valuable.”
As the COVID-19 era moves forward, there is merit in finding ways to manage the struggles that will inevitably continue.
As Smith navigates through this uncertain and chaotic time, she reminds herself of the importance of keeping a positive outlook.
“Until we reconvene and gather again, I believe it’s in our best interest to stay calm, focused, creative and flexible,” Smith said.
In the shift to remote learning, art students were left with several questions about how their studio classes would be translated online. Nationwide, the rapid shift to online courses affected all students and teachers, but with critiques, process portfolios and other unique class facets, art, in general, was put into a difficult position.
Charles Basham, a professor of painting and drawing at Kent State, said moving online has been difficult, as he loves working with his students and the relationships he builds with them.
“It's not an art history class... But for anything that is hands-on, it's better to be in a classroom where you can sort of demonstrate what you're talking about...it's a disappointing time,” he said. “I mean, I like working with my students. I think they appreciate the input that I give them and it's disappointing and frustrating. It's pretty infuriating, but it is what it is.”
The teacher to student connection in art is crucial. While technically, there is still a connection, it’s detached and distant. With the closure of the university, these relationships were like the classes themselves, put on indefinite hold.
Graduate students who hold teaching positions at the university are put in a unique position; they have to navigate both how to complete their own workload while also providing work and guidance to other students.
Catherine Lentini, a graduate teaching assistant teaching Drawing I and II, found herself trying to navigate this situation.
“I wasn't really thinking about putting my classes online yet because I was in the middle of trying to finish (my) thesis, so I thought it was going to give me some extra time to work on my paintings, but then we discovered that we weren't going to be allowed into our studios,” she said. “I thought, ‘Well, what the hell am I going to do? How am I going to finish these paintings?’ I was making plans to be like, ‘OK, when I get back, I'll make x number of paintings and edit it down from there.’ It really was like nobody had any idea what was going to happen with any thesis or graduation or anything like that.”
Luckily, this wasn’t Lentini’s first time teaching a course. Her class is mostly made up of upperclassmen who have a familiarity with the coursework and expectations, which takes some ease off of her, as well. Much like the rest of those in the art program, staff or student, she’s struggled with providing effective feedback that will help her students progress on their artistic journey.
“...Usually I would introduce a concept at the beginning of class and then they worked on the assignment...Then I go around to each student….I can give them real-time instruction and show them on their drawings, a lot of the times I'll draw on their drawings to just tweak a couple of things to help them get the idea of what I want them to do… So if I'm not there to see what they're drawing and work with them, it's really hard. Basically, I have to give them feedback on finished drawings and tell them what to fix or what to work on a lot of the time without even seeing exactly what they're drawing…”
Having to leave campus and transition to remote instruction has also taken a toll on professors who conduct research on campus.
Per the announcement from Diacon, professors conducting research on campus were asked to wrap up their on campus projects and begin working remotely.
This change has impacted clinical psychology professor Joel Hughes because he had a research project in the works. For Hughes, conducting research remotely meant sending online surveys to the Kent State community.
Hughes was approached in early March by associate sociology professor Anthony Vander Horst. Horst foresaw coronavirus reaching Ohio, so they formed an interdisciplinary team to research Kent State's emotional response to the pandemic.
In a situation like this, proactivity is key. The team was able to get approved from the Institutional Review Board by March 19 and sent out the initial survey via email on March 24.
Hughes hopes his research will provide public health officials with up-to-date information on how people are responding to the virus and how dangerous they perceive coronavirus to be.
Funding via the National Institutes of Health has also slowed down because the NIH is also working remotely.
“I have no idea how many [grants] will go [to funding], or if it will even be held for a while,” Hughes said. “A lot of stuff I do on campus with my students is being delayed. We aren’t even supposed to go in the lab without authorization from the dean, so now we’re just doing the best we can.”
Hughes is constantly working despite being quarantined. He found working at home leads to more distractions than being on campus.
“We’re going to use this time to write and study. It's not really true that we have a ton of time to sit around and do nothing,” he said. “Instead, we find ourselves putting out fires and doing the best we can, learning technology we didn't know we needed to learn and trying to keep the research enterprise going as best we can.”
Working from home has proven to be challenging for both students and professors alike.
“Having to worry about a global pandemic makes focusing really hard,” said David Wilson, a graduate student who teaches an intro to VCD course. “As a teacher you already have this weight of, ‘Am I doing a good job, am I reaching people, are they learning what they need to know?’ Being stuck at home and teaching through a computer screen...there’s a disconnect to the world.”
For class, Wilson has been using Google Hangouts to meet with two different sections of his class to go over their final projects, along with going over students’ work and answering any questions, which has been pretty successful and productive.
“The hardest thing about all this is it threw me off my personal and work routine,” Willson said. He and his wife both teach from home in addition to taking care of two kids, who are 2 and 4 years old.
Wilson enjoys being in the studio space for class and talking to students about their work and how to improve. With the move to remote teaching, his class has lost that physical aspect, along with in-person group critiques.
As virtual classrooms and pre-recorded lectures become the new normal for college students around the country, professors and students alike struggle to adapt learning for some fields.
As professors have worked to adjust their syllabi while still making sure their students are learning, some feel like their students have more on their minds than just passing their classes.
“I just don’t think I realized the amount of stress students are facing,” McCartney said. “With students having to work more, students losing housing, students not wanting to go home, those are things I think that as faculty I don’t think. … I think I wish I would have known on a deeper level the issues students are dealing with.”
Darwin Boyd, an assistant professor of applied science and technology, is teaching a lab-based microprogramming and logic course this semester. In order to curb the major setback that switching to an online course entails, Boyd created take home kits for his students when he learned in-person courses would be cancelled.
“The take-home kits included 3D printed bases, wires and tools,” Boyd said. “I have been working on the prototype for years, we just started working with it at the beginning of this semester.”
School is not the only aspect of our lives that has been forever changed. COVID-19 changed our daily habits, social gatherings and work.
“There are pluses and minuses when moving to an all-online course,” Boyd said. “For the minuses; assessments and grading take way longer. On the plus side, I had about an hour drive each way to and from school.”
On March 2, the last day the Florence campus was open, many professors, including Nicoletta Peluffo, the College of Arts and Sciences Coordinator for the Kent State Florence Center, met with the students for a final time to say their goodbyes.
“The last day that the school was open, I went to school and I still met some students in the school and outside the school,” Peluffo said. “And I remember [I met] a group of students outside, and when we met, we started crying and we all hug[ged] altogether. It was 10, 15 people on the sidewalk hugging. And it was really, really very, very sad.”
As students started to travel back to the U.S., faculty members at the Florence Center began preparing to transition their classes online for remote instruction.
“They created on Blackboard, some instructions in order to facilitate the creation of online classes. … We had group Skype meetings with the IT staff and then we had the meetings with our staff in Florence,” Peluffo said. “I think that the thing that worked a lot was peer training. Each of us who would learn something, immediately shared and the sharing of this information was really very useful.”
As both students and professors continue to adjust to online courses, many professors continue to meet virtually with their students despite the different challenges they may face such as timezone differences or issues with internet connection.
“We are close even though we are far,” Peluffo said. “But probably because we are connected by the same kind of experience and that we are trying to manage in a way or the other.”
Even as students and professors continue remote instruction, many of the students wish they could return to the Florence Center and their professors feel the same way.
“I hope that the students who were here this semester, can, in one way or another, come back as students, as tourists, as their honeymoon, whatever it is,” Peluffo said. “Because I think they left in a very bad way so I would like [it if] they can come back and enjoy. … [I hope that] in the short or long future that they will be able to come back.”
The Campus Kitchen
The Campus Kitchen at Kent State provides meals and food for those who struggle with food insecurity.
Instead of shutting down when COVID-19 mandates started, Amanda Woodyard, the director for community engaged learning, decided to try to keep the Campus Kitchen open.
“We are used to keeping operations open whether we have a lot of students on campus or not,” Woodyard said. “Just because the students are off-campus and the classes aren’t there, the need for food is still prevalent. Food insecurity doesn’t just go away.”
In a typical week, the Campus Kitchen would take all the food donated back to campus and host volunteer shifts. There is also a cooking class where the students turn the food into nutritious meals.
“We knew immediately that with mandates coming from the university and governor we weren’t going to be able to do meal prep,” Woodyard said. ”We really started focusing our energy on ensuring that we could still do the weekly food pantry. Allowing students, faculty, staff and even community members to come and take advantage of that.
Before COVID-19, food pantries would be held twice a week in Beall Hall. Anyone could come to look around and interact with the workers.
“Since the weather is getting better, and just to make it quick and easy for people, we are setting up the food pantry in the back, at the loading dock,” Woodyard said. “That way clients can walk up or drive up. We have a system where we marked on the pavement with tape, six feet apart.”
The Campus Kitchen has delivered over 800 pounds of food to the community members this year. Its main food donor is Trader Joe's.
“In a year we typically recover close to 80,000 pounds of food from Trader Joe's,” Woodyard said. “Most of the food that we do recover is all fresh, perishable food items.”
The Campus Kitchen has cut down the interaction between the volunteers and the food by packaging the food into bags to hand out.
“We give out perishable food items. We typically have fruits, vegetables, bread, eggs and sometimes meat,” Woodyard said. “We also sometimes donate a bag of non-perishable food items.”
With some people having dietary restrictions, each bag is typically made as a vegetarian bag, with the option of meats and bakery items on the side.
“A few of our clients are vegan or gluten-free,” Woodyard said. “We try our hardest to accommodate them as well. Typically, those individuals will let us know ahead of time that they are coming or we will pull things aside if it’s on hand or requested.”
The Campus Kitchen is also helping local non-profit organizations, which the Campus Kitchen would normally send a hot meal to, by supplying some groceries throughout the week. The Campus Kitchen has also limited volunteers to two per shift for the safety of everyone, but once things get back to normal everyone is encouraged to help out.
Food pantries are held every Friday at the loading dock of Beall Hall from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. For more information, check out The Campus Kitchen’s Facebook page.
Without students on campus, groups, organizations and clubs that are fueled by student engagement have been forced to adjust to functioning without seeing students face-to-face.
When he thinks back to the day of the cancellation announcements, Ken Ditlevson, director of the LGBTQ+ Center on campus, said it felt like a shock, like there was a pit in his stomach.
“There are a lot of students who don't have supportive home environments, so that’s immediately where my mind went,” he said. “There's some students that Kent is like their great place away from home where they really feel more at home than they do at their own place because they’re accepted, they’re able to be themselves. Ironically, shortly into that day there were students who were talking about not wanting to go home and there were students rallying around trying to figure out options like, ‘Could they stay with them? Let me check with my family,’ it was nice seeing people wanting to support the students that really were in an awkward predicament because no one had any say in it. It was just automatic. This was the decision.”
Ditlevson said that is why the center has been so dedicated to continuing outreach during this time, as he said their students should always be first.
“We’re going to do everything we can to reach out and make sure they really feel supported,” he said. “Students are emailing and we’re setting up individual meetings, calling them, or Skyping with them. I’ve done a lot of email(ing) just back and forth with students that are asking questions and wondering what to do and just trying to offer as much emotional support as possible in those ways.”
Ditlevson said the center has also been working to move some of their in-person activities and events to remote platforms.
“Prior to the semester ending abruptly in the way that it did, we used to have biweekly meetings, one call Q’ommunity — that’s just an LGBTQ umbrella social group — and then we had QTPOC (a social group for Queer and Trans People of Color),” he said. “So instead of having separate groups, we’re likely going to be combining those.”
The LGBTQ+ Center also held monthly crafternoons, another event Ditlevson said will be moving online, along with their monthly Film Friday event. The Film Fridays will now be held via Netflix Party.
“Netflix has a special that you can do for free and you pick a movie (and get a code), then everyone connects through Netflix using the code and then it starts the movie at the exact same time for everyone,” he said. “You can stop it and talk with the group and process and have a conversation or in the sidebar you can have chat conversations where you can be making fun of the movie or supporting it like, ‘You go, girl.’ So that's something we're going to experiment with.”
The LGBTQ+ Center has also started Mario Kart tournaments on the Nintendo Switch, organized by Katie Mattise, assistant director of the LGBTQ+ Center, that are available for anyone to join. The center has also organized an Animal Crossing Hour event, where anyone can join to talk on Discord, a voice communication app, and play the game together.
Ditlevson said another important piece they wanted to focus on during this time was supporting the LGBTQ+ Center’s intern team. There are 12 interns working for the LGBTQ+ Center, typically either for school credit or work study. Ditlevson said a lot of people were forced to leave campus without any closure and he wanted to make sure their interns felt supported.
“Our students have been really integral in planning a lot of our programming and efforts,” he said. “We knew that they wouldn't want to just walk away from them because they’re invested and they joined our center because they really believe in equality and furthering advocacy efforts of our state. So we started having weekly team meetings, every Wednesday until the end of the semester we’re going to be having virtual meetings. Right now we’re using Google Hangouts to connect and it's been actually the highlight of my week.”
Ditlevson said the team at the LGBTQ+ Center knows each other very well, having worked together this semester. However, they don’t know anything about each other’s home environments.
“Seeing each other’s pets and art projects and art they have hanging on their wall and things they’re proud of has been really a cool way of connecting and making that feel valued,” he said. “Our goal is we want all of our interns to help us in doing outreach to the community, too. So we’re doing it with an intentional focus because we know that if our student interns are up for the task of supporting our community virtually, we can triple and quadruple our impact by having them work on these projects simultaneously so it's not just Katie and me trying to do it all.”
Lavender Graduation is an important event for the center that honors the achievements of graduating LGBTQ+ students at Kent State. The event was originally scheduled for April 17.
Ditlevson said he received several emails from disappointed students when it was clear Lavender Graduation would not be happening April 17. Ditlevson said all of these students expressed hopes that the center would still hold some kind of event to recognize the graduates.
In a video posted on the LGBTQ+ Center’s website and social media, Ditlevson and Mattise announced a virtual celebration for Lavender Graduation taking place from May 4 to May 8 across the center’s various social media platforms. There will also be a rescheduled, in-person celebration once it is safe to gather.
Ditlevson said they’re working on a plan to reschedule the event, but they’re waiting on guidance from the governor and the university to make those plans.
“We had thought about maybe pairing it up with summer graduation in August or possibly doing something in fall with a kickoff of the year,” he said. “But we're definitely going to do something to represent our graduates and present their stoles in a public setting so they can be proud and visible and also give thanks to someone that helped them reach this milestone.”
Student Multicultural Center
The Student Multicultural Center at Kent State is another campus organization that thrives and survives on student interaction.
Michael Daniels, interim director of the SMC, said the staff at the center is working hard to stay available to students during this time.
“What we’ve been trying to do is just make sure that we’re meeting the students where they’re at,” he said. “Obviously everyone is meeting people where they’re at, but we use that term as more of a way to explain how we are connecting with students based on what they’re needs are now. It’s just making sure that we are staying available.”
Daniels said the SMC has been connecting with students through email, social media, phone calls and video chats. The staff has also been holding individual meetings with students and making themselves available for virtual drop-in hours. Daniels said the SMC is also hosting community virtual lounge hours to check in on students, as they try to continue that “feeling of normal.”
“We’re really just following up to do wellness checks, see how students are doing academically with the transition to remote learning, seeing if students have any financial challenges or any concerns about paying for things or if they had to transition back home and a cost occurred,” he said. “(We’re just) making sure they’re still progressing toward their academic goals.”
Daniels said so far the transition to working remotely has been pretty smooth considering the circumstances. He said he’s thankful for the university providing the necessary technology to work remotely and to the IT department for helping with the transition.
“Our personal IT person in the student center, he really helped out a lot,” he said. “He sat down with us before the transition occurred for two and a half, almost three hours, just going through my staff on how to work Microsoft Teams, making sure we had technology for the transition, access to laptops and made sure we could sign into our shared drive using the VPN. They were just phenomenal. He made it really accessible.”
The SMC had a variety of events planned for the rest of the semester, such as celebrating the rest of Women’s History Month in March and a discrimination station they had planned for April 9 and the SMC’s summer program, which they’re still figuring out. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, those events have been cancelled or postponed as the center works to develop ways to hold them virtually or at a later date.
The SMC also has a pre-commencement celebration called Karamu Ya Wahitimu/Celebración de los Graduados. This ceremony celebrates all graduating African American, Native American, Latinx, Hispanic and multiracial students at Kent State. The ceremony was originally planned to take place on May 7, but has since been postponed, but the SMC is planning a virtual celebration to honor its graduates.
In the LGBTQ+ Center’s virtual Lavender Graduation announcement video, it was announced that during the week long celebration of Lavender Graduation, they will also be sharing the SMC’s virtual Karamu Ya Wahitimu/Celebración de los Graduados ceremony.
Center for Sexual and Relationship Violence Support Services (SRVSS)
Kent State's Center for Sexual and Relationship Violence Support Services works to empower those by power-based personal violence and educate the community about healthy relationships and bystander action. Since the COVID-19 pandemic forced Kent campus to close, they have also had to transition to working remotely.
Since April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, SRVSS had an entire month of programming planned, but now they’ve been forced to move as much as possible online and focus on raising awareness through social media.
Jennie O’Connell, director of SRVSS, said they’ve been posting a lot more on social media to let everyone know they’re still available and students can still reach the center via phone or email. SRVSS also has a function on their website where anyone can write in to ask questions.
“We try to discourage people from using it as crisis support because it's not answered immediately, but we do get some people who (ask), ‘Can someone call me to talk?’ or, ‘How do I get in touch with an advocate?’ stuff like that,” she said. “So we do sometimes get more direct service type requests, but a lot of times, the point of it is more if people just have questions about, ‘Is this sexual assault?’ or, ‘What resources are available?’ Just more broad questions, not specific to the situation they’re in. So we’re still continuing to use that to keep in touch.”
O’Connell said April tends to be SRVSS busiest month, in terms of awareness and prevention, but also support.
“A lot of times when there’s more awareness, survivors begin to either start to acknowledge that, yes, what happened to them was harmful because they may have pushed it out of their mind and pushed it away for awhile just to be able to cope,” she said. “Or just because there's a lot of stuff around that's supporting survivors, they feel safe to disclose or come forward where they may not have felt safe in other times of the year. So we tend to have a lot more students reaching out for support during April.”
O’Connell said that while the transition to working remotely hasn’t been super challenging, she thinks it has decreased their visibility with students because the average student doesn’t follow SRVSS on social media.
“The students who follow us on social media are the students who've already gotten connected with us in a way,” she said. “So in some ways, it's preaching to the choir in a sense because we’re sending stuff to students who already have the information.”
O’Connell said SRVSS is working on developing creative ways to reach those students who aren’t necessarily connected to the center.
“We’re going to be sending stuff to other folks to say, ‘Can you post this to your site?’ because even all the centers (Women’s Center, LGBTQ+ Center, SMC) are going to be connected to a lot of students who may not be connected to us,” she said. “So by having them post stuff on their site and raise awareness that way, having people hashtag and follow us so when they post different things, they also connect it back to us so students are making that connection.”
Anyone that has experienced a recent or past sexual assault, relationship abuse, sexual harassment or stalking, can find resources for help on SRVSS website.
As Gov. DeWine begins to reopen Ohio, life is still full of uncertainty. With rules and regulations in place to continue honoring social distancing practices, common social gatherings, shopping at your favorite store or eating at your favorite restaurant are all very different experiences compared to what they were before the pandemic. And it’s unclear just how long life will remain this way.
At this point in time, it’s still unclear what will happen for students and staff during the fall semester. Whether classes return to face-to-face instruction is still undecided.
As the summer progresses, students, faculty and staff will continue to wait to get a better understanding of not only what the fall semester might look like, but also what their lives may look like in the near future.
Maria McGinnis, Rachel Karas, Hannah Davis, Madisyn Woodring, Emily Powell, Emma Andrus, Krista DeFini, Kelsey Paulus, Grace-Marie Burton, Molly Adams, Terry Lee and Elena Neoh contributed to this piece.