Coming back to school amid COVID-19

“Your engagement in—and outside the classroom is key to the ultimate college experience,” says the official West Texas A&M University website, as it describes how its faculty are always looking for ways to optimize the experience of the students. This semester the engagement and the experience are radically different.

             The close of the 2020 spring semester was wrought with strife. A pandemic had befallen the world and students and teachers alike were forced into online classes. Collectively, we were thrust into a confined lifestyle of caution, isolation, and difficult adjustments. Now, during a time of extreme uncertainty and universal angst, many of us find ourselves back on campus; a campus familiar to us but one still teetering on the edge of unnervingly Kafkaesque.  

             Students and staff roam with masks either in hand or on their faces. Extra precautions like copper strips on door handles or antibacterial soaps in hallways are constant reminders of the possible danger that comes with the new normal. Classes, when not a hybrid of online and in-class work, are held in Zoom meetings or in spaced-out classrooms with professors doing their best to speak beyond their masks. Notice papers on every door and social distance stickers on the floor remind one of a panic that has since become routine. Select unfortunate students are quarantined in Guenther Hall, receiving food from the cafeteria in boxes twice daily and bereft of social interaction. Student emails are sent out as reminders that virus tests are available and, when not required, recommended. And all of this is endured with the knowledge that it could all end in renewed cancellation looming over everyone’s heads.

             Yet this is still just a backdrop. The mood on campus may not be without occasional gripe and groan, but all in all the positivity of the students and staff is palpable. The relief of being back together with friends, back in a classroom, back in a more customary, less depressing setting is, for many, cause for celebration despite annoyances.

             “This past spring, campus was deader than the winter months bereft of vigor,” said Alex Luce, a verbose senior in mechanical engineering. “Upon starting this new semester at WT, I couldn’t feel anything but grateful to see students on campus again. Life on campus, though different, has been wonderful because of the students and faculty that make it possible for school to be open.”

             In a statement he made for his series on the reopening of the university during the pandemic, Dr. Walter Wendler, president of West Texas A&M University, said the following.

“Campus energy is created by individuals working independently but motivated toward a common goal. Our goal is a sense of positive routine, a campus cadence—not a rut, but a rhythm for teaching and learning.” This rhythm has apparently been reached. The third week of the semester has seen only 6 cases of COVID 19 on campus, as opposed to the 15 from the week before. And morale, though middling, is higher than one might expect. It is important for this morale to stay high if the semester is to be ended on campus. As Wendler puts it later in the statement: “WT should always be a fountain of human energy, but particularly in trying times.”