Holden Fatheree is a junior history major.
Remote learning was hard on me. Really hard. I’m an extroverted person who takes joy in being able to see my peers and instructors in person. I’ve found that the experience of being on campus and going about my academic routine is an important factor in my success as a student, as is being surrounded by people who are also engaged in academic pursuit.
Interacting with USF through my computer couldn’t match the time I spent physically on campus during my first semester and a half. Being separated from the USF community and the support network I built up during my freshman year had a negative impact on my mental health and well-being. Attending online classes over the last two and a half semesters, and the negative academic performance I experienced along with it, made school into a chore and something I often dreaded.
As we move into this new semester, it can be tempting to simply forget our time with remote learning. However, I think that it is essential that we as a community take time to discuss and reflect on our experiences at Zoom U, figure out what lessons this time has taught us, and note what the University and our community can do to improve as we make our return to campus.
The main anxiety I experienced was that I was going to be left behind. Assignments piled up for me, uncompleted, until it became overwhelming. I became paralyzed with anxiety and withdrawn from the world. The act of checking my email, normally a mundane part of being a college student, became an anxious and even terrifying habit. I don’t know what exactly I was afraid of, but anything to do with USF suddenly caused me anxiety.
I tried to maintain a connection with the school through student organizations, taking leadership positions in clubs and joining student government. Ultimately, it was too much for me, though. More responsibility proved to only add to my anxieties and difficulties. In the end, I couldn’t keep up with my school work or with my extracurriculars. I feel like I let both my professors and peers down.
Logically, I know that I had depression and was severely limited in what I could accomplish, but I feel a sense of guilt regardless. If any of my professors, fellow College Players, or senators from the Zoom era are reading this: I’m sorry. I gave it my best shot but I couldn’t make it work.
I wish that the University could have acknowledged in a more meaningful way just how difficult remote learning was for so many people, particularly because of students’ disproportionate access to resources when we were dispersed across the globe. People began having to contend with different time zones, poor Wi-Fi connections, and various living situations. The variety and disparity encountered in remote learning requires an even more individualized approach to each student and their needs than that which USF tries to provide in normal times.
Online school requires a different skill set than traditional in-person classes. Students’ ability to reestablish the good time management and organizational skills they previously had while taking classes on campus could have been impaired by the new roadblocks to virtual learning: an inconsistent Wi-Fi connection, lack of a safe and quiet study space, and the addition of familial responsibilities at home. I’m sure students who experienced their freshman year via Zoom are now facing challenges as they participate on campus for the first time. Converts from Zoom to in-person schooling will have to learn how to do college all over again. Even physically showing up to class can pose challenges not found on Zoom where one just has to click a button to be present.
USF needs to be more aggressive in the support it offers to students, both on campus and online. When a student is in crisis, whether that be mental, financial, or emotional, there needs to be better systems in place to stop that tailspin. Obviously if a student is taking Zoom classes, the University can’t physically check up on them. However, students provide an emergency contact to the school enabling ways of checking on the well-being and safety of a student remotely.
There needs to be a way to reach students when they aren’t able to get help themselves. Professors should be able to inform a specialist of some kind when a student drops off of the face of the earth. There are still students taking online classes this semester, so it will be essential that those students are better accommodated while still remote. They are going to need more support than in normal times. No student should feel as if they’ve been allowed to fall through the cracks.