By Amelia Leaphart
By July 8, 2020, students had to decide whether they would return to campus for the Advent semester or continue remote learning. While the majority of students decided to return to Sewanee after two and a half months of studying off-campus, many made the decision to continue the semester remotely.
Morgan Linder (C’21) describes her initial reaction to remote learning in March: “I was not excited about it, but once we got started, I thought it went well for as quick as we had to jump into it.”
Linder struggled with learning in a shared space with her grandmother, “I had to run off of her time schedule. She was always on the phone and didn’t really understand that I needed silence in a class,” she said.
Not being able to leave campus until November defined Linder’s decision a week before the required survey assessing student’s plans for the fall was due.
“I contemplated a lot when I learned about all we couldn’t do on campus. I’m also a very picky eater, and I was worried about McClurg,” she says.
In addition to needing regular doctor visits, Linder says, “I just couldn’t leave my nana for that long. I get homesick, and I didn’t think that staying there for three months non-stop would have been the best decision”
In a normal year, whenever Linder had a long or relatively unbusy weekend, she would take a quick trip home to Chattanooga. “It’s sad to see everyone back without me, but I know it was my decision.”
Linder balances a job at a day-care from 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 every weekday as an assistant teacher, forcing her to watch a recorded lecture of one of her classes that meets in-person.
“It’s in the Wick,” Linder says, “and it’s hard to hear and understand discussions when it’s recorded in a classroom, even though they say they’ve updated technology.”
Linder copes at home by trying to stay as busy as possible, “so I don’t feel like I’m missing out too much.” She also connected with her professors before classes started to discuss scheduling.
“I feel that every time I get on the phone, people are telling me to come back next semester. And I want to so bad. If I could I would go right now. But if things are still the same in January, I probably won’t go back. It all depends on if things change or not, which is sad because it’s my senior year.”
Before COVID-19 even occupied most students’ minds, Hannah Swann (C’23) expressed concerns over it in February, “I was watching the numbers every day, but anyone I talked to denied that it was a real problem, and I was convinced we would be online for the end of the fourth quarter.”
Swann believes public health should be prioritized over in-person learning. However, she also thought the virus would have been handled by August and didn’t anticipate staying remote for the Advent semester.
Swann struggled with completing work last semester due to her shared space with two younger brothers also completing remote learning. Now, she’s using her family’s guest house as her private space for working. As soon as staying home was an option for students, Swann made her decision.
“My own health is a major factor in many of my decisions,” Swann said. “I’m on an immunosuppressant, which is like a low-level chemotherapy. When we knew less about the virus, I thought ‘I’m immunocompromised, so I need to be really, really careful.’”
As someone with a weakened immune system and chronic respiratory problems, getting COVID-19 could be dire. Furthermore, Swann’s mother also has an auto-immune disease.
“I felt like I was doing the right thing. If I was at Sewanee right now, it would be hard to follow all the rules,” Swann continued. “I think what Sewanee’s doing is great, and they have a better chance of successfully staying on campus than any other college I know. I also don’t want to rely on others for my health, I don’t really trust others to be smart and have good decision-making skills.”
Three out of four of Swann’s classes are already completely remote, so she doesn’t feel like she’s missing out on her education. However, the fourth one is on Zoom while being taught primarily in-person.
“I would definitely be doing better in that class if I was there with everyone else, but it is a class that has to be in-person.”
As an introverted person, Swann doesn’t mind the solitude of remote learning. Her guest house gives her space away from her family, and she usually only sees them at dinner-time.
She keeps in touch with people randomly, mainly through Snapchat, and she recently FaceTimed her big in her sorority. “I haven’t disconnected myself entirely,” she said, “but I also don’t want to try and live through people on campus. I chose to be home.”
Swann’s plans for next semester depend on Sewanee’s ability to make it the whole semester without an outbreak in order to demonstrate that the COVID plan works. If her mental health suffers with remote learning, she might also consider returning.
COVID restrictions played a significant factor in both Linder and Swann’s decision to stay home, as both students enjoy taking trips off-campus. However, Swann’s concerns over health and Linder’s concerns about homesickness define their decisions. Whether a student spends their senior year of college at home or an immunocompromised sophomore whose life may depend on institutions’ adaption to coronavirus, the pandemic forces people to change their perspective on their lives.