In the wake of the pandemic, the start of this school year feels strange for most students and professors. Most of us at Kelley have spent a full year taking classes online. Some professors still teach in the classroom while being recorded for an online audience — or a small, social-distanced, in-person one. Some peers even stayed at home for the year; they didn’t want to pay rent in Bloomington or saw their fellow students as safety hazards.
In my case, I stayed in Bloomington to be around friends, but the pandemic made it a hard year.
Returning as a senior, I’m starting the school year feeling optimistic and excited. I know this is my last year to do a lot of what Kelley and IU has to offer. Meeting the Kelley Office of Diversity and Inclusion staff during drop-in hours, seeing all my favorite clubs during the involvement fair, and eating cupcakes alongside the new president, Pamela Whitten, are just a few of the things that coming back to campus allows me to experience in a relatively normal way.
In 2020, I joined Kelley Student Government right before we were sent home for COVID-19. Because of this, I couldn’t attend any in-person general assembly meetings. Recently, I attended my first meeting ever. While I applaud the past administration for making online meetings work, in- person meetings have a different energy to them. For example, turning to my neighbors to make a side comment or clapping at a statement without needing to unmute my mic seemed almost surreal. Being around my fellow delegates will be something I look forwards to every week.
When talking to my peers, they all share my excitement in experiencing Kelley again. For some students, especially freshmen and sophomores, this is their first time on campus in normal times. Kelley has done a great job of welcoming these students and making them feel important. For example, Kelley hosted a Sophomore Celebration Kickoff event. One student, Ranya, said that the event made her feel welcome and seen at our school given that they didn’t have a normal freshman year. She felt that “it was considerate that Kelley Student Government hosted an event where sophomores could make up for lost time in some way and bond and grab merch!”.
Many students, not just underclassmen, are making up for lost time this year. Seniors are checking events and experiences off their bucket list and looking forward to all the quintessential Kelley events like our namesakes Kelley’s Steak and Shake days.
FACULTY AND STAFF ARE ADJUSTING AS WELL
Many faculty members feel the same way as students about heading back to semi-normal teaching, excited and optimistic. Many Kelley professors taught hybrid classes this past year so were confined to a screen as well. One professor, Stephanie M. H. Moore, feels excited about this semester because she gets to interact with students again. During our conversation, she mentioned that the energy of a classroom full of students was hard to replicate online. Professors often felt the need to overcompensate for this loss by adding extra office hours or online bonding activities for the class. This was, at times, draining and frustrating during an already busy and stressful year.
Moore teaches some discussion-based classes where a significant portion of students grade comes from speaking up. Many students, like myself, felt awkward or disconnected on Zoom and even found it hard to participate over a screen. Stephanie says that she can see and feel the difference between these artificial online conversations and in person ones. In the latter, students can contribute meaningful comments and interact with nonverbal cues like nodding to someone’s point they agree with or crossing their arms when they disagree. While these things may seem small and insignificant, they make a world of difference.
MENTAL HEALTH IN THE NEW NORMAL
While most students like me are excited for in-person classes again, there are some concerns about the downsides. Many fear that another school-wide shutdown might cut our year short again. In general, our anxiety about the virus and large crowds add another layer to an already- stressful experience. I have caught myself leaving rooms or study spaces when it feels too crowded. Other times, I’ve been extra cautious on busses, even though all of campus is required to wear masks. Anxiety isn’t the only mental health issue affecting students. My own threshold for social interactions has been altered from being quarantined away from friends and peers for so long. I hear students use words like “exhausted” and “worn out” every day to describe how they are feeling about going back to a full in-person schedule. We are used to waking up in the morning and walking as far as our living rooms to log into class or a club event. Walking to the bus stop can now feel like a marathon.
Today, I feel energized about in-person classes, but also feel mentally exhausted. These sensations may seem in conflict, but they exist simultaneously in Kelley. The simple explanation is this: we are transitioning! We are all in this strange limbo between a COVID quarantine and regular life. This is what we are calling the new normal and our future seems to have two paths.
We either move forward and embrace the new or go backward and hold on to the way things were. This new school year throws us into the middle of it all and asks us to resume our work and studies while answering these questions. Adjusting requires us to try new tactics to feel healthy and sane. That might include limiting social interactions by taking some time to ourselves, removing extra activities from oour schedule that take up too much time, or maybe just taking a nap!
After talking to my teachers, many are also understanding of this hardship and willing to accommodate us if we communicate openly. Whatever you choose to do, my advice is to put yourself first. Either in the classroom or in your personal life, make sure that you are practicing healthy habits because whatever shape this year takes, it seems that this new normal is here to stay.
Now I leave the conversation to you. What has your transition from online school to in-person classes been like?
I am a Senior at Indiana University Bloomington. I am Double Majoring in Public Policy and Law, Ethics and Decision Making with a minor in Political Science. I have aspirations of attending law school after undergraduate school. I have always been a passionate leader, taking leadership positions on whenever I can. Throughout my life, I’ve always believed in helping those less fortunate than me. This, to me, is an obligation and not a choice. I have embodied this through my volunteer work and further through my future career aspirations.
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