Maneuvering the Unknown
by Ali Johnston | published Oct. 6th, 2020
Years from now, we will tell our children about life during a pandemic. We will tell them about the time when we ran out of toilet paper and hand sanitizer. We will tell them about wearing face masks in the heat of the summer and having to stand six feet away from your best friend. We can inform them of all of these changes, but every story is different.
There is more to this pandemic than what will fit in a textbook. COVID-19 has sparked a new way of life that will continue to affect us for a long time, according to a Business Insider article titled “13 potential long-term effects the coronavirus pandemic could have on mental health."
In this article, Matthew Wilson unpacks the stress, anxiety and even PTSD that can follow those who grew up in the era of COVID-19. He mentions that one of the biggest issues with living in this time is the lack of control that many feel. There are no answers to when this will end or what the world will be like afterward, leaving many people scrambling with feelings of stress and uncertainty.
Like the rest of the population, college students are also facing extreme uncertainty. Barry Strauber, a professor in the School of Communication, sympathizes with those students trying to build a future during this time.
“It’s a lot to deal with. It would’ve been enough to explore and discover something to do postgraduate, now you have to think about all of these other variables ... Thank goodness [your generation] is so smart. I think my generation would’ve fallen apart.”
The amount of unknowns that students are facing this year is unprecedented. What changes are students facing? How are the rules being enforced?
An RIT News article titled "RIT faculty look ahead to classroom instruction this fall” mentions what safety protocols RIT has taken on to ensure a safe semester. Author Vienna McGrain mentions the need for face masks, lower classroom capacities, and the completion of the daily health screening. In practice, this changes campus life quite a bit.
“Because of the circumstances, you’re not seeing a campus life like it was before ... Between the library and the COLA building, you used to see droves of people in between classes, and I kind of liked it. Now, you look around and think, ‘Where is everybody?’ It’s quiet,” Strauber said.
While some students are getting used to a new campus life, others may be completely virtual.
Online versus Face-to-Face
In addition to navigating their careers, students are also learning a completely new way of attending classes.
Zoom classes present a whole new set of challenges. Students now have the ability to completely tune out, while being marked as present. Edmon Rober, a fourth year Management Information Systems student offered his take on online classes.
“I think the most difficult aspect of this, the thing that made me the most uncomfortable, was school,” Rober said. “Even though we’re hybrid, it's tempting to turn off your video and go do something else entirely.”
With all of the distraction potentials, many are finding themselves disengaged or even separated from the classroom. Rober mentioned that it’s easy to forget that all of these classes are legitimate and that the money for them is coming out of his pocket.
Not everyone finds Zoom to be a negative change — just something else that they need to adapt to. While Rober may struggle with distractions, he believes that online schooling could level the playing field.
“Before, it was the students who sat in the front of a classroom who were the first to participate and the easiest to hear,” Rober said. “Zoom kind of removes the human error of classrooms. Everyone is on one plane, so the first to speak can participate, it’s actually pretty efficient. The only problem is that it’s uninspiring.”
There is no argument that online classes required a massive shift in focus for students, but they now need to keep track of two different school schedules: online and face-to-face. Everything about this school year looks different than in the past, leaving many wondering if these changes are permanent.
Earlier this semester, Strauber helped his students generate speech ideas by having them pick a phrase out of a hat and finish the sentence. A sentence that came out of the activity read: "As I look into the future, the one thing I’ll always question is the idea of normal."
Is this the new normal? Should we be viewing this as temporary? Nothing is certain. The one thing that everyone can agree on is moving on from this is an increasingly difficult task and nobody seems to know how to do it.
Seniors are finding themselves thrown into the working world without an idea of where to go. Strauber’s piece of advice would be to follow your passion, as nothing else is certain. Nobody knows what the world is going to look like even just five years from now.
Dealing with this level of uncertainty is something that many have never experienced before and yet everyone is having to adapt and change who they were before the pandemic. Rober believes that this adaptation may be the key to making it out of this.
"One of the best skills to have, that no class can teach, is adaptability. If you can’t have adaptability in a time like this, then you won’t be able to handle everything that comes after school,” Rober said. “There are going to be plenty of times when there is going to be a huge tectonic shift, and if you don’t have an unconditional motivation, none of this is going to work.”