Woo’s Wellbeing: The Semester So Far

Associate Editor Patrick Young reports on the current mental wellbeing of students attending Worcester State University, and the resources available to them should they need assistance.

By Patrick Young

2020 has been a year unlike any other and, more specifically, a school year like any other.

In March, students and teachers alike scrambled to prepare for fully online learning, figuring out how to operate Zoom or modify their coursework to accommodate the lack of physical interaction. We had to say goodbye to the friends made on campus, the passing exchanges with teachers and workers in the hallway, and welcome in long days at the computer, jumping from call to call. As the semester slugged to the finish, days were met with defeat, exasperated breaths, and, finally, relief as the final Blackboard response was submitted.

The stress wouldn’t end there though.

It was a summer of questions, concerns and problems: Would we be back on campus? Are classes going to be in person? How long will the pandemic last? Will school even return? 

When we finally started getting answers, though, new questions immediately arose to fill the previous ones’ places. What will campus life be like––dining, visitors, wellness? How will we get around campus? Will online learning still be the dominant style of teaching? Though the faculty did their best addressing our concerns, there was still no telling what would happen once students actually got on campus. Combined with the escalating prominence of COVID-19 in the city of Worcester, the school had to be ready for anything.

Now here we are, a little over halfway through the semester, and students are in a variety of places, both physically and mentally. 

Amanda Brodeur, 19, a sophomore Biology major who lives on campus, says that her experience so far this semester has been good, noting that her classes have been going well. Brodeur is taking five classes right now, three of them online. She also added, “I like that we can live on campus and still have roommates.”

Conversely, commuter students seem to be struggling a bit more. Jeanny Ermakova, 19, a Psychology major, and Bryce Wdowiak, 21, a Communications major, are having a tougher time this semester. Previously living on campus, Ermakova and Wydowiak opted to commute this semester due to the fears surrounding the virus.

Ermakova, who is taking four online classes, said, “So far I don’t like online classes. I feel like there’s more work handed to students and I don’t feel like I have a responsibility to do my work.” When asked why, she followed up saying, “Since it’s all online, I could just close my laptop and pretend my work isn’t there.”

Wydowiak, who is taking three classes fully online and one in-person, described this semester as being “really different so far, but as expected from mostly online learning.”

From these students’ responses, it is clear how important a factor learning on campus versus at home is this semester. For Brodeur, being able to get out a couple times a week for class and to still socialize with her friends, albeit quite differently than before the pandemic, are nonetheless the needed escapes many commuters desperately lack. Being cooped up at a desk, staring at a screen day in and day out is draining, and after so many hours of that environment, it becomes hard to continue.

The average online learning setup. Image courtesy of Ryanne McGowan.

For freshmen, these routines are the only sort of college they have known. Victoria Torres, 23, a second-semester freshman, started school just before the initial COVID-19 outbreak, having a very short time with the traditional college experience. When asked to describe how the semester has been going, she stated, “Being mostly online means being mostly in my dorm, and as someone who is very extroverted, my motivation is all over the place.” This battle for motivation is one that everyone during this pandemic can understand: how easy it is to just forfeit responsibility and relax? I mean, that is essentially what we did when this whole situation blew open! Although it is hard, college students have a duty to try and keep pushing through this adversity. 

But it can’t just be us, the students––it has to be all of us. We need help.

I asked those I interviewed what the school could do to try and improve their school year, if anything at all. 

Ermakova wishes that teachers could be a little more lenient with their rules during this time, particularly with turning in assignments: “I have a job and I’m in 4 classes and I’m depressed. It gets hard remembering that I have an 80 question assignment due at midnight.”

Kristen Connors, 20, a sophomore English major, spoke on behalf of the visual learners: “There should not be so much reading. Being in the classroom with a professor looking at me and writing things on the board is how I learn best. I can’t learn a whole semester of college through articles.”

To Torres, it’s important to keep a moral perspective on everything, thinking the school is doing the most they can. She thanks the school’s RAs specifically for “trying to keep students positive and our hands clean!”

Sometimes though, we cannot make it through and need more personalized guidance. The WSU Counseling Center this semester has been in full swing since the outset.

Sarah Valois, a counselor here at WSU, spoke to me about the semester so far on their end. 

“We know that this is an extremely difficult time for many students,” she said. “For some, remote classes, personal stressors, and the additional stressors of the pandemic, political climate and racial violence have added to the typical stressors college students face.” 

The types of problems students are facing, as mentioned previously in the interview, are present in the Center as well. From “academic, financial and family difficulties” to adjustments to remote learning needs and styles, the WSU faculty is aware of the hardships students are going through, Valois said. There is a silver lining though. Valois noted that the number of students who are contacting the Center for help are comparable to previous semesters, despite the variety of extenuating circumstances she mentioned above. So, if there is one word that best captures what these past six weeks have been like, it would probably be “okay.” 

We, students and teachers alike, are doing the best we can, given what the world has offered us: there have been some on-campus Covid cases, but the faculty and administration swiftly resolved them; adjusting to the new demands of online learning has been difficult, but we are managing. Most prominently, though, there has been a lot of uncertainty, which will probably never go away. With the ever-looming virus, rocky political environment, racial and social injustices, and the multitude of personal issues we all face, we will always have something to worry about. If we have forever to worry about though, we might as well take the time to enjoy today.

Students may call the office at 508-929-8072 or email counseling_wsu@worcester.edu if they are interested in confidential mental health support.

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