NEW ORLEANS (September 25, 2020) – Five weeks into the fall semester, students report similar challenges whether on-campus or fully online of dealing with the pandemic, fatal police shootings and threat of hurricanes while adjusting to the discipline required for online and hybrid classes.
Students got their first glimpse of the “new normal” at Dillard on July 9, when they received a campus-wide email the 20-page “Fall 2020 Plan to Return to Campus (#ReconnectDU).” Students had about a month to adjust to idea of the changes this semester would bring, including masks and social distancing that reduced dorm occupancy, changed meal services and severely reduced opportunities to mingle.
Students returned to campus on staggered dates Aug. 11-17 before classes resumed Aug. 18. Twelve percent of students chose to rely on distance education while 53 percent of students live in campus housing.
Brooklyn Anderson, an on-campus freshman film major from Cleveland, Ohio, said, “I’m really happy to be here. I always thought college would be different. Really, this is almost better. We are making the memories we thought we’d have. Not much has changed, but things look different. I just have to do it in a way that’s smart and safe so that nobody has to get sent home.”
In contrast, De’Auan McClaine, a junior film major from Kansas City, Kansas, didn’t return to campus because it was cheaper to stay home, and he felt the school would be “an incubation center for the virus.”
(However, according to the COVID Dashboard located at https://dillard.edu/covid-19/, Dillard has had seven reported cases of COVID-19 since Aug. 1.)
Online learning seems to have presented students with both pros and cons.
Since university instruction no longer occurs on Fridays, SGA President Traelon Rodgers, a third-year urban studies and public policy major from Dallas, emphasized the importance of time management and said he uses this day wisely.
“Friday should be a day that you get a lot of things done,” he suggested.
Anderson said she created her “own classroom environments.” She said she likes to collaborate with classmates and often will do homework with friends outside or in their dorm rooms.
Rachel Carter, a junior mass communication major from Thibodaux who is relying on distance learning, said, “I’m just more ready to study since it’s really on my own time. Instead of having to go to a class, I can just pick up notebook or my laptop – something that I've never been able to do usually.
“I would just say I'm more invested in learning. I guess it’s easier for me.”
McClaine reported a different experience since he needs structure.
“I like the freedom [of online classes] to a certain extent, but the way I'm set up, I need structure,” he said, “I'm taking the least amount of credits I've ever taken since I've been at Dillard, and this is by far the hardest it’s ever been. This is the most work that I've ever gotten.”
Carter said the grief of constant police excessive force and resulting deaths are combining with the “new normal” of online classes.
“Like, we’re going through so much. I got so sad with all of these deaths that I'm seeing. It's just a lot that we have to take in. And, on top of all that, [some of us] are also having to deal with hurricanes. It's not just a pandemic.”
Moreover, Anderson mentioned, “I’m trying to convince my classmates to give the professors more leeway. They’ve never had to teach in a pandemic before. It’s all new to everyone. I also get that we’re all struggling, but you can’t be struggling more than me because I’m not the one teaching the class. I’m 18 years old; it’s my fourth week out here.”
Beyond online learning, students have had to adjust to their new environments, whether at home or on campus.
McClaine said, “Being at home makes me think about like why I left to go to New Orleans in the first place. It was sort of like an escape, and it really helped me to evolve as a person.
“When you’re at home, you can't just focus on yourself, which is the unique part about [going away to college]. At home I’ve got to account for my family. Maybe I have to watch my little sister or go to the store for my brother.”
Carter also stayed home for the semester. Since she’s local, she had the opportunity to visit the campus once.
“Everything was really quiet. On the oaks, I used to hear lots of people and laughing, but I didn't see anyone. It was very odd to go back to that.”
Rodgers, who stays on campus said, “I do think the only flaw [in returning to campus] would be that there's hardly any campus life.”
Nonetheless, Rodgers has faith in the Dillard community: “I think our efforts have been in the right places: masking up, socially distancing. We could do better, but I think if we consistently continue to test ourselves consistently do contact tracing, I think we're here for the long run. We’ve just got to make sure that we do the right things.”