By J. Harvard Feldhouse
What was supposed to be a fun and relaxing spring break quickly devolved into uncertainty as the spread of COVID-19 in Ohio forced Youngstown State University to cease in-person instruction and switch to online instruction for the rest of the semester.
The decision left YSU students with a lot of questions and concerns about how these changes would work out.
Prior to making this decision, the university extended its spring break by adding an additional week, which ran from March 16 to 22.
Campus Residence Concerns
Like many residents, Joshua Drohn, freshman social studies education major, and Jocelyn Pinegar, sophomore biology major, were unsure whether to get their belongings or avoid campus.
“It’s a mixed bag,” Drohn said. “I want to go back there because some of my stuff [is] there, but then again, you know, I want to make sure that I don’t get sick and I’m safe.”
Pinegar didn’t anticipate the extended break and, as a result, didn’t prepare for it.
“I didn’t bring enough clothes home to last that long. Plus all my school supplies are still on campus,” Pinegar said.
She said she wasn’t sure if she should make the trip to the university to grab her items or wait.
Residents were also frustrated that housing they’ve already paid for will go unused. Pinegar said she wants some form of reimbursement.
“I have a tuition payment coming up that I’m going to struggle to make because as long as I’m discouraged from staying in the dorms, I won’t be able to work at my on-campus job,” she said. “I feel that we should be at least partially reimbursed, especially for room and board, if the campus continues to be shut down.”
After days of uncertainty, YSU decided to switch to online instruction for the rest of the semester, meaning residents will have to move out. Kelly Beers, director of university housing, informed residents via email how moving out will work this week.
Students currently staying in the dorms moved out this weekend while students who left for spring break will move out in scheduled times between Monday, March 16, and Saturday, March 21. Housing will restrict the number of people present and the time spent in the dorms to minimize possible COVID-19 exposure.
While university housing strongly encourages students to move out of the residence halls, international students and other students who have nowhere else to go for the semester can fill out a request form. Residents should have received email instructions over the weekend.
The Office of the President issued an email Friday promising partial reimbursement for university housing residents. Details are still being established and residents will receive an email once the plan is set.
Virtual Learning Concerns
While switching to online will be relatively simple for many classes, students in several areas of study claim online instruction isn’t feasible for them.
Majors in creative arts, education, STEM and health have curriculums heavy in field work, laboratory work and performance. With in-person classes and YSU-related activities canceled, these tasks will become very difficult or impossible to complete.
Sarah Hunter, junior vocal performance major, performs in a few ensembles for credit. In-person interaction isn’t negotiable for choirs, operas and recitals.
“I’m just kind of interested to see what they’re going to do going forward after all of us have put in a lot of hard work,” Hunter said. “Because I’ve already seen a lot of other universities that have canceled their operas or their plays, and it’s really put a toll on a lot of the students who put in so much hard work.”
Dylan Lowers, junior special education major, has to complete 25 hours of field work for one of his core classes, and with local elementary schools closed, he can’t log hours.
“It will be nearly impossible to make these hours up if the schools come back in three weeks since our projects based on this field work are due mid-April,” Lowers said. “I would hope for every education major’s sake our professors will be lenient on our tutoring hours.”
Hunter and Lowers worry that they won’t be able to graduate on time, costing them thousands of dollars more than they would have otherwise.
Another concern for many students is access to technology and the internet in order to participate in online instruction. YSU requests that students who need assistance with online connectivity fill out the Student Device Survey.
An email to the YSU student body from Jim Yukech, associate vice president of information technology services and chief information officer, stated that if a student does not have personal access to Wi-Fi, computing devices or audio-video capabilities, they should complete the survey.
“YSU wants to make sure that everyone is able to access online course content and audio visual materials,” the email said.
YSU has not released an online instruction plan to students.
An Appropriate Response
While YSU’s switch to online instruction has proven to be burdensome for YSU students, most seem to agree that this was a necessary and appropriate measure to protect the most vulnerable members of society.
Hunter herself has several immune system disorders, making COVID-19 a serious threat to her health.
“There’s a lot of people who have compromised immune systems,” Hunter said. “They’re not canceling classes for the people who are fine with getting sick. They’re canceling classes for people [with compromised immune systems].”
Pinegar said she believes it’s better to be safe when it comes to COVID-19.
“The spread of the virus is definitely concerning,” Pinegar said. “And while most students aren’t at risk of dying from it, they could pass it on to someone who could be at risk. I think that, in the end, it’s better safe than sorry. I’d rather not have class than risk further spreading and deaths.”
In the email from the Office of the President, the university said it’s important to minimize the number of students on campus and said this decision is a “proactive step designed to prevent the spread of the disease and keep the campus community and region safe.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, social distancing and practicing good hygiene by handwashing, sneezing or coughing into one’s elbow and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces is the most effective way to prevent contracting and spreading COVID-19.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio health officials said Monday that the state has 50 cases of COVID-19, which is twice the number of cases confirmed on Friday.