Loyola’s campuses are bustling again as the university enters its fourth week of in-person classes. After nearly 18 months of online learning, professors and students alike are experiencing the changes that come with returning to campus.
The transition also comes with difficulties, like increased fatigue and anxiety, making professors’ guidance, aid and understanding more important for some students this semester.
Students said they’re grateful to be back on campus and interacting masked-face to masked-face, including first-year Biblina Adam who’s on the pre-medical track.
“Online I wasn’t paying attention in class. I could just use my phone, I had all the distractions,” Adam said. “I like it better in person now. I feel like I can concentrate now and take my notes.”
Although some say it’s nice to be back, college students are facing unique mental challenges right now. Researchers have found rates of fatigue, anxiety and depression in college students have spiked throughout the pandemic, and they aren’t projected to lower any time soon.
The Phoenix reported a decline in mental health, specifically for first-year students in April 2021, as Loyola turned to intervention care strategies. These strategies focus on tools students can practice on their own, such as mindfulness and deep breathing exercises..
Adam is no stranger to some of these struggles.
“I have three 8 a.m. classes in my week, so it burns me out so bad,” Adam said. “Last week on Friday, I had to go home after my first class and attempt to nap because I felt so dead.”
Muslim Chaplain and professor in the departments of theology, modern language, and literature, Omer Mozaffar, said he’s definitely noticed anxiety in his students. He made changes to his syllabus when Loyola went online that he’s keeping this semester in hopes they ease students’ stress.
“I’m adding slots throughout the semester where students can just talk about what’s going on in case they need any help processing or if they need to vent,” Mozaffar said. “We would just dedicate the entire class to talk.”
Laura Gawlinksi, a professor of classical studies, said she made changes for her students as well. She now shares class notes with her students and allows for quizzes to be taken on Zoom before class periods. This way, students who miss class – especially due to contact tracing or quarantines – won’t fall behind on class materials.
“I hope it gives them a little more support,” Gawlinksi said.
Gawlinksi said the university’s communication to professors on how to ease the challenges students may face has been minimal. Loyola offered a series of faculty webinars this summer, which mostly discussed safety protocols, contact tracing, and what to do when a student tests positive for COVID-19.
How to best aid students through this transition was briefly discussed by panelist Susan Ries, associate dean of Quinlan School of Business: “Our theme for the return this fall is to try to show as much patience, flexibility and agility, as we navigate our return,” Reese said.
Gawlinksi told The Phoenix Loyola communicated with professors more last year to have extra understanding and flexibility for students, while this year focused on protocol for students testing positive.
She personally keeps the Center for Student Assistance and Advocacy link handy for extra student support and expects to utilize it a few times throughout the semester. The site provides direct resources for various problems, such as academic, mental health, discrimination, and general student concerns.
Professor of environmental studies Christopher Peterson said he is confident the semester will go smoothly. He’s also kept resources from semesters taught online, such as supplemental instruction videos he made, to help students.
“Just like we would handle any semester when a student has some sort of issue … we just try and make any accommodations we can: delay due dates, send class material, just try and figure out ways so they don’t miss the material,” Peterson said.
First-year Haley Salas, whose major is exercise science, said she’s also experiencing some fatigue and COVID-19 anxiety after being back in the classroom.
“I am feeling a little bit of fatigue,” Salas said. “Meeting new people, experiencing new workloads and I guess content … I’m still adjusting.”
Despite Salas’ fatigue, she and other students seem to be confident that their professors are understanding and attentive to the new challenges of returning to in person.
“[Professors are] trying to make it seem normal while still like making us know that they’re understanding, and they’re trying to accommodate for what they know people experienced over the past years,” Salas said.
Junior criminal justice major Jason Bondar said he’s happy with how his professors are handling the transition.
“I feel like they’re pretty aware of everybody’s situation,” Bondar, 20, said.
Although those returning to campus are facing unique challenges, some find it reassuring that students and professors alike are in the same boat. The Loyola community as a whole is experiencing this new and different semester together, facing the challenges as they come.
“I feel like everybody was just lonely during that whole time,” Bondar said. “It feels great to know we’re all feeling the same way and just trying to get back to normal situations. Everybody just seems happy to be back.”
A previous version of this article misspelled Susan Ries’ name. We great the error and have corrected it.