The COVID-19 outbreak has been spreading rapidly and affecting the lives of many people in its path. With event cancellations, public buildings closing, quarantines and social distancing being the hot topics on everyone’s mind, it can be hard to see any light in such a dark time.
Kent State University announced all face-to-face classes on all campuses will be cancelled for the remainder of the semester on March 13. Three days later, Kent State announced they will be reducing on-campus operations until further notice.
In the midst of all of this, students living on campus are required to check out of the dorms by 5 p.m. on March 20. However, every student may not have the luxury of being able to go home depending on where home is. Those students can issue a permission to stay request.
After reading President Diacon’s emails about campus closing, Caroline Henneman, a senior public relations major, began to think about all the students potentially being affected by this.
“I was an RA two years ago and I thought about all the students that I had who are still in dorms who don't have transportation,” she said. “They don't have cars, they’re in the dorms and I know two of them had really bad gluten allergies and other health restrictions that they couldn't eat just any food they could find.”
On March 10 Henneman tweeted, “TO ALL KSU STUDENTS WHO MAY NEED FOOD WHILE DINING HALLS ARE LIMITING THEMSELVES: Please reach out to me. I’m willing to make food, give rides to grocery stores, or find food resources for anyone in need.”
Henneman said the tweet was mainly directed toward three or four people she knew when she lived in the dorms, just as a heads up, but the tweet blew up.
“I remember being at the gym and checking my phone after two hours and it had like 300 likes at that point and 100 retweets,” she said. “I don't even understand why it blew up how it did. Maybe people really do need that encouraging message like, ‘Hey, even when everything seems hectic, there’s still good people doing good things.’”
The night Henneman posted the tweet, two people reached out to her for help.
“They didn't understand the PARTA bus systems, one kid was an international student so he doesn't have a license and he can’t go back home [because] there’s now a travel restriction on flying, so he's genuinely stuck here,” she said.
Henneman picked the two students up from Tri-Towers with her friend Maria Serra, a senior journalism major who volunteered to help, and they all went to Walmart.
“We just walked around and talked and got to know each other,” Henneman said. “It was a really good experience.”
Henneman said no one has asked for help since then, but she realizes it may be hard for some people to ask for help from a stranger. Since then, her and a couple of her friends have decided to buy some snacks and bring them to the dorms so it is a little less scary than asking for a ride from a stranger, she said.
Henneman herself has not been directly affected by any of the closing and cancellations because she lives off-campus with her own car and job. However, she understands how some of these students that are struggling may be feeling.
“I studied abroad two years ago by myself and I didn’t have transportation, I didn't have means of really buying more groceries and I had a set amount of money I could spend,” she said. “I just keep thinking, ‘If something like this happened when I was in a foreign country where everything is so different than what I'm used to, I can’t get around, I can’t just walk to the nearest grocery store, what would I do?’ So I guess I just keep imagining if I was in [this] situation, how would I be feeling?”
Serra said for many students leaving campus is a luxury and being able to shop for healthy groceries can be a challenge. Providing these rides to grocery stores for students not only helps them shop for their necessities, but it can help benefit their mental and physical health as well.
“For some students, the change of scenery from a dorm room to a grocery store can be very beneficial,” she said. “If you’ve lived on campus, you know how it feels to be trapped in your room and need to get out. Driving to get groceries helps in more ways than one.”
With the university being closed for the rest of the semester, Serra said her and Henneman still plan to offer services to those who need them, especially international students or anyone else who does not have the option to go home. With people moving out and buildings closing, they are unsure where exactly they are able to go, but they still hope to help anyone who needs it.
Henneman advises anyone that needs help not to be afraid to reach out.
“It’s not weak to show that you need help in a time like this,” she said. “Because during a time of panic, it's really hard to figure out where your resources are and I want everyone to know I’m a resource. I’m just a student at Kent State who wants to look out for other students because I know what it probably feels like and what they're probably going through. It can be very draining on their mental health and worrying every day about where their food is coming from is a huge insecurity.”
Henneman also wants students to know it is never too late to reach out, and, in the midst of everything happening, it is also important to continue being kind to each other.
“It’s really easy to point fingers, blame others and think only of yourself, like all these people buying all the toilet paper and thinking more of having this ‘I need to survive’ mentality,” she said. “It’s more important to have that ‘We have each other's back’ mentality and ‘We can get through this together’ mentality. Because that’s the only way we’re going to stop the panic and get through all of this.”
Students in need can reach Henneman on Twitter @carolinerose702, on Instagram @caroline.roseee and via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact Maria McGinnis at email@example.com.