NEW ORLEANS (April 20, 2020) – Spring Fest, Shimmy Like A Nupe, Train Like An Alpha and commencement are just a few of many events Dillard students were looking forward to but will not be able to experience this spring as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Because of the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, universities across the globe were forced to discontinue normal operations and transition to online classes for the remainder of spring 2020. This respiratory, airborne virus has flipped many students’ lives upside down.
Paulina Webber, a freshman English major from Little Rock, Ark., said she feels “a little incomplete”: “I know there are some things that upperclassmen tell you to look forward to, including the idea of completing your first year.”
While Webber and other first-year students have the rest of their college career to look forward to, this was the end of the road for the class of 2020, whose spring commencement has been postponed to the fall.
Leah Erby, a senior, English major from Chicago, said she feels “robbed.”
“Senior year is all about preparing for life after Dillard, so graduation and senior festivities is the time to really connect with your class the last couple of months or even weeks before the real world kicks in, and we were robbed of that,” she said.
While Dillard plans to have a commencement for the graduating seniors in December, Erby said she just wants to be celebrated for a milestone some people never achieve.
“Even though commencement is just a ceremony, everybody doesn’t get that ceremony,” she said. “Most people graduate from high school, but a lot of people do not graduate from college. So the fact that a lot of us are graduating with honors and high GPAs – and even just graduating period – the fact that we may not be able to show our families or anybody else, that is hard on all seniors.”
The transition from an in-class setting to an online class setting has been a breeze for some students but a challenge for others, and the reasoning may be related to professors’ leniency and students’ learning styles.
Erby said, “For me, online classes really have not changed much of anything, and I think it is because my professors have been very understanding.
“However, I feel like the ease of online classes really just depends on your major and your learning style.”
In contrast, Webber had an uneasy transition.
“I’m a visual learner, so I like to see things done, and I just think you get something more from actually being in the room with your professors,” said Webber. “At this point, I’m doing the work to check it off my list and say I did it and to get the grade, and I can honestly say that I am not getting the learning experience that I know I normally would.”
Other students like William Pinkney, a junior, biology major from New Orleans, reported having grown from having virtual class meetings.
“I feel like the online transition has made me more disciplined and more adamant about getting my work done,” said Pinkney. “This has definitely helped me stay focused and stay hungry for the things I want to accomplish here at Dillard.”
Not only did colleges and universities transition to 100 percent online coursework, but another readjustment was closing dormitories for most students. Dillard, however, was among the universities that kept their doors open to accommodate students like Pinkney, whose home setting included a health-care worker.
“[My aunt] has been exposed to the virus twice already and had to go right back to work after being quarantined, so I just stayed on campus to avoid giving the virus to her or [having] her giving it to me.”
With Louisiana’s number of COVID-19 rates growing so rapidly, many out-of-state students like Erby felt safer going home.
“I didn’t want to be in Louisiana stuck and stranded, especially since Louisiana has a really, really high number of cases as of right now,” she said. “I felt like it was just a smarter idea for me to at least be in a position where I can be at home instead of being almost 1,000 miles away with no family …”
DU students said they were impressed with the university’s overall response to this unprecedented global crisis.
Pinkney said, “As a transfer student, this pandemic gave me a chance to see how well Dillard handles situations, and this has shown me how much they care about their students.”
Erby and Webber recognized the university’s efforts knowing this was a situation no one could have prepared for.
Said Erby: “I do not think there is a blueprint for how you can handle a pandemic. Every minute something is changing, so it’s really just figuring things out, and I think Dillard has definitely tried to figure it out,” Erby said.
Webber added, “Of course, things have not been perfect, but this was sprung upon administration, faculty and staff and the students. No one expected this, so I think the university did the best they could with what they were given.”
Dillard University’s most recent efforts to accommodate students through this pandemic has been the altering of the grading policy for the spring 2020 semester: Students have the option of receiving a regular grade (A, B, C, D, F) or options to convert their grade to Pass/D/Fail, Dr. Yolanda Page, vice president of Academic Affairs, announced to students via email.
Webber said while she chose the standard option, she understands the policy may be more helpful for students with other majors.
“I know some students, especially STEM majors, who take a lot of labs and other classes that require some hands-on stuff that they’re not doing the best in,” said Webber, “so I know that option is going to help them.”
As a STEM major, Pinkney does plan to opt into the P/D/F system.
“I am not physically in class to complete these labs, and that’s a learning curve for me,” he said, “so I will probably take my chance with the P/D/F system.”
As a senior, Erby said students need to be aware of where they stand before making the decision.
“Depending on your path at Dillard, you may want to raise your GPA or get a certain scholarship or get into a certain school and may need that extra boost,” she said. “If any student has any of those needs, then I feel that the P/D/F system is going to be ineffective.”
This global pandemic has not only been a learning lesson for institutions, but for students as well.
Said Webber: “I am grateful for the first semester that I had, and going into next semester, I will definitely take advantage of all the opportunities and in-person activities with other people that I can get.”
Pinkney’s biggest lesson has been that the world waits for no one: “No matter what’s going on around you, the world continues. It may seem like the world is at a halt at this point in time; however, everything is still going on and will continue to go on whether we are inside or outside.”
Erby has learned to accept many of life’s changes: “Life is not set in stone and does not go by a blueprint. It is important to have a plan, but show grace to that plan, be an object to change and know that everything works out for the greater good.”