The end of the fall semester finally gave St. John’s students their well-deserved break. Like many other universities, St. John’s is operating on a revised academic calendar, where students must still attend classes on holidays such as President’s Day this spring. Many colleges chose this option to reduce student travel and prevent the spread of COVID-19. SJU allowed students to take in-person, hybrid and remote classes during the fall of 2020, resulting in a wide range of student experiences from the fall. The Torch talked to students about their fall semester and their predictions for what lies ahead this semester.
Fall v. Spring – professors v. technology
Heading into the spring semester one factor remains the same: The difficulty with professors and technology. While professors’ accommodations and the overall virtual learning processes were better in the fall than they were in spring 2020, some issues never went away. Senior accounting major Maria Buffolino, who is also working toward her MA in taxation, had both positive and negative takeaways.
While she was registered in hybrid classes (classes in which half of students normally alternate between virtual and in-person learning every other week), Buffolino had the luxury of attending the class in-person every week. Ultimately, there were more students attending class virtually each week, making the classroom size safe enough for social distancing without a rotating schedule. Buffolino says she enjoyed this perk, since she learns better in a classroom environment.
However, her experience so far this semester has not been as pleasant. While Buffolino had positive reviews of her professors in the fall, she has a drastically different attitude this semester.
“All of my professors last semester were very accommodating; however, this semester I’m not granted with that same luxury,” Buffolino said. “This semester I am doing a full-time internship and on Thursday nights I’m taking an undergraduate class to fulfill my minor and my professor is not allowing the class to be virtual whatsoever.”
With the ongoing pandemic, Buffolino found it difficult to understand the reasoning of her professor.
“In my opinion, it’s very unaccommodating for him to do this with the current health concerns that we’re faced with today,” she said. “Not everyone is willing to be in the presence of a professor, other students; especially when the professor and the other students within the classroom don’t take proper health measures by wearing their mask correctly.”
Sophomore Grace Greer told the Torch that her biggest issue lies instead with the University’s recent technological changes. “Switching to Canvas was difficult, but shutting down mySJU was salt in the wound,” she said.
MySJU was the homepage for most student resources, from Career Services to course registration. Students are still trying to adjust to the new platforms offered via Canvas.
To return or not return – Do the risks of being in-person outweigh the reward?
While St. John’s tried to offer its community a sense of normalcy without compromising safety during the fall semester, some students still were not hooked on returning. Sophomore journalism major Alexandra Crespo decided to remain home this semester for health and practical reasons.
“It was difficult to adjust to being home again, not being able to see any of your friends, and it wasn’t easy to do online school because many professors still didn’t know what they were doing,” Crespo said. “[But], I feel like the rate at which people are dying and becoming infected is scary and we as a country have to actively work together to be safer,” she said.
When asked about the possibility of another lockdown, students find the prospect worrisome but potentially necessary. Buffolino shares similar concerns, but her sentiments go further, as she lives in the same fear that many small businesses owners across the country are facing.
“Another lockdown does make me nervous, primarily because my dad owns a small business and this past year I’ve seen how slow business has been,” she said. “My dad put a lot of effort into his small business and to see that we might be on the brink of another lockdown will really hurt my family financially.”
While Crespo did not have personal reasons to be concerned for a lockdown, her heart reaches out to those in the same position as Buffolino’s family and hopes the government invokes further action.
“I’m concerned for businesses and families that might not be able to survive another lockdown, so I hope they have a good plan to support those in need,” Crespo said.
Could Biden’s beginning bring a better tomorrow?
Civil unrest and political strife that escalated nationwide in recent months directly concerned college students across the country, including those on SJU’s campuses. With a new president comes hope for some students for their own experiences at St. John’s.
Greer hopes that President Joe Biden’s administration will bring “a better political climate to campus of acceptance and tolerance.”
Buffolino shared similar sentiments, believing Biden’s apparent “for the people” attitude sets the stage for a positive change.
“I do think that the community will be different with the Biden administration in office, unlike the Trump administration that promoted hatred towards your peers who don’t share the same beliefs as you,” she said.
University protocols still leave students concerned
All in all, one common thread still remains among students: The want for better health safety and protocols on campus. Buffolino’s main wish is to graduate in person this May, but knows changes need to be made first.
“I am not ecstatic about returning to campus because I don’t feel like St. John’s takes the proper measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” she said. “In the fall I was never asked to get tested … Even though I was going to campus every single week and seeing some of my peers and professors.”
Similarly, indoor dining on campus has left students like Crespo questioning the discretion of the University.
“At first it was concerning that Monty’s opened so soon and that a lot of people I had heard of were getting sick on campus, but I think if they implement better policies for safety then I would feel a lot safer going back to campus,” Crespo said.
As for updates to the University’s heath protocol, the only major change is the COVID-19 testing requirement — students must present a single negative COVID-19 test result within the first five days of their first in-person class. Buffolino feels the new testing requirement for students coming to campus for classes this semester is necessary, but disorganized. Lengthy lines for testing at Taffner Field House this past week may do more harm than intended in regard to preventing the spread of COVID-19.
St. John’s is still offering in-person, hybrid and online courses this semester, which began on Thursday, Jan. 28. Students all over hope for a return of college normalcy, which will make abiding by health guidelines rewarding in the long run.