by NIYAH YISRAEL
The pandemic and the switch to online learning shifted students’ entire lifestyles. Before this fall, the first majority-in-person semester since COVID hit, some students contemplated their own return to campus. Here are the stories of three students as they decided whether or not to return to campus.
Ayana Jefferson, a current senior majoring in biology, was a second-semester sophomore when the pandemic first hit in March of 2020. That is when the idea of taking a break first entered her mind.
“[Online learning] hit me like a train,” Jefferson said. “I thought to myself that I was going to definitely take a gap year. If it was going to be me staying online … it’s just not for me.”
The shift to online learning was a culture shock, especially for majors that require an extensive amount of hands-on activity. Maintaining that level of work at home becomes harder with other distractions and a lack of accountability.
”I wasn’t engaged,” said Jefferson. “I just felt really detached and [had] a low level of wanting to work. I didn’t have any push or drive. I felt I had to teach myself.”
Since Jefferson worked throughout the pandemic, she had a plan in case she decided to take a gap year.
“I was working while [COVID restrictions were high],” she said. “I would just continue with that, honestly save up money and get more experience, which is really good for biology. [I would have] possibly volunteered.”
But, with the promise of in-person classes, Jefferson decided to stay and finish out her time at UMW.
“I’m a senior; I just wanted to finish up,” she said. “I don’t really have any regrets. I feel comfortable. I do my part to stay safe for myself. I’m a lot happier being back on campus.”
Another student, Tiya Jeffreys, who was a junior sociology major at UMW, made the decision to take that gap year, even though it was not her original plan.
“[I did not plan on taking a gap year] because I kind of wanted to get stuff out of the way and see where I would end up,” she said. After some thought, she ultimately decided “‘I probably need to take a break from this,’ especially as an RA dealing with other people’s problems and not having anyone to deal with mine.”
In contrast to Jefferson, Jeffreys actually enjoyed online classes, so that was not a reason for her leaving.
“I actually enjoyed online learning a little more than I probably should have,” said Jeffreys. “It wasn’t as stressful when it came to ‘oh I have to be visible to people.’ If I say something, I don’t really worry about how I am being looked at, like the tiny little things that kind of stay in the back of your mind.”
For Jeffreys, the pandemic allowed her to take a closer look at her own life and role as a student. Her lack of self-care was the last straw.
“[I had] multiple breakdowns during [spring] semester,” she said. “I realized I was not taking care of myself as much as I should’ve been, and maybe I needed to step back and stop trying to go along with the typical standard four-year pace and just find my own way to get to where I want to go.”
Since leaving the university, Jeffreys’ plan has been successful.
“[I wanted] to get a full-time job, which I recently did, and just establish myself financially, probably start saving up to get my own place and doing more out-in-the-world type things,” she said. “I feel so much better; I’m trying to get my life together instead of worrying about school.”
As for plans for the future, college is still an option, but probably not at UMW.
“I do plan on finishing,” she said. “I don’t have that much farther to go, so I mean why not finish? At UMW specifically? Probably not. I’ll probably transfer or just take it class by class if I can.”
While Jefferson and Jeffreys are both confident in their decisions, another student, Gynger Adams, is more conflicted. Adams is a current senior double majoring in art history and religion. Her reasoning for considering a gap year had little to do with online learning and all to do with the pandemic.
“The pandemic is killing people, and I didn’t want to be one of those people,” she said.
Her trust in the University’s ability to prevent the spread of COVID-19 was low.
“[UMW has] a shoddy medical thing going on,” she said. “The number of times stomach bugs and stuff have gone around here [and] nothing’s done and everybody catches it … I just didn’t trust them with my safety.”
Though she was concerned about her safety from COVID-19, she decided to return to campus, not only because of her classes being instructed face-to-face, but as a means to have a space to herself as well.
“Living with my family during the pandemic was rough, and I just need my own space to get work done and just be me,” she said. “It’s a lot easier here than at home.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has altered plans for many students. Although these students ended up on different paths, they each took time to figure out what decision would be best for their own wellbeing, whether or not that included returning to UMW.