‘I WANTED A NORMAL YEAR’: WARTBURG STUDENTS, FACULTY DISCUSS CAMPUS CHANGES

SILVIA OAKLAND, TRUMPET EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
KAYLA MARTHALER, TRUMPET MANAGING EDITOR

When envisioning her first year on campus, Grace Distler, first-year biochemistry major from Jesup, Iowa, did not think of having to pack face masks and extra hand sanitizer along with her dorm fridge. The thought of having to wear a mask and stand six feet apart while participating in first-year orientation was only thought of after COVID-19 changed campus guidelines throughout the world. Students like Distler had their concerns about returning to in-person learning or hybrid models of learning. 

“Although I think that Wartburg has done a lot of things to keep this year as ‘normal’ as they can, there are definitely some things that are not. I knew that college was going to be stressful because it is something new and there are a lot of changes, but I think that there is an extra level of stress this year,” Distler said.  “I think for me personally there is an extra burden of thoughts always running through my mind, ‘do I feel okay?’, ‘did I check my temperature?’, or ‘Am I sneezing because of allergies?’ as a first-year, I am trying to adapt to these changes of growing up, while also dealing with this always-changing pandemic.”

Other first years, like Distler, expressed their concerns with the transition from online learning as a senior in high school to hybrid learning as a first year in college. Brittany Lingenfelter, first-year elementary education major also from Jesup, Iowa, was excited to attend in person, but was worried what the transition in learning would be like.

“I felt that I wouldn’t have the knowledge that I should have because going online, for me, wasn’t very effective. I am most effective when I am in class and studying, compared to learning off of a computer screen,” Lingenfelter said. “I was a little skeptical after everything going on whether or not we would actually be returning to school this fall, but I am so happy to be on campus this semester because I also wanted to be able to meet new people and have as much of a normal first year in college.”

Experienced students also felt a sense of unease. Darice Pilon, third-year elementary education major, and Alanna Muhammad, third-year neuroscience and pyschology major, agreed returning to campus came as a shock. 

“I think we could have gone online, especially with how many issues I’m having in my classes and with the rising number of cases,” Pilon said. 

FACULTY BEGIN ADJUSTMENTS, HEED GUIDELINES FROM STATE AND COLLEGE ADMINISTRATION

While students adjusted, faculty and staff also prepared for the Fall Term. Dr. Samantha Larimer, associate professor of biology at Wartburg College, began prepping for the changes to her classes over the summer in order to follow state, federal and campus guidelines. Larimer, a professor at Wartburg for over 10 years, switched to a hybrid learning environment for the Fall Term. 

“Faculty were highly encouraged to have some portion of their class on campus, and going fully online required special permission from the dean’s office,” Larimer said. “The decision to host my classes as hybrid or in-person originally was based on whether or not I could fit everyone into the classroom at once.”

Dr. Daniel Sundblad, chair of the faculty council at Wartburg College, said resources and workshops were provided to professors from Information Technology Services (ITS) in order to ensure students were given the best education possible when learning remotely or in a hybrid model. 

“Loni Abbas and Barb Schultz in ITS, among many others, have been extremely helpful in assisting faculty with offering new modalities of instruction,” Sundblad said. “These trainings and resources have been extremely beneficial in preparing faculty for this fall and the future.”

In some classrooms, students would be able to social distance with ease but Larimer did not want to put her students in a situation where they were uncomfortable or unsafe in their learning environment. With the hybrid model, Larimer knew it would be an easy transition for students who found themselves in quarantine or isolation.

“One of the hardest parts of teaching in these new modes is that I don’t have as many casual conversations with students, so I feel a bit disconnected from how many of them might be handling the challenges this semester,” Larimer said. “I can imagine that the normal challenges of learning what is expected of them in each of their classes at the start of the semester is dramatically amplified this semester.”

CHANGES BEGIN IN PLACES BEYOND THE CLASSROOM

Besides the classroom, life on campus included changes to dining procedures and residential life. Dr. Daniel Kittle, dean of students and chair of the Campus Health Recovery Team (CHRT), has invested in resources such as hand sanitizer, sanitizing solution and meal delivery to quarantined or isolated students which have all created additional expenses for the college. 

The Trumpet found every classroom on campus as of September 1 had either hand sanitizer, sanitizing solution or both along with appropriate signs informing students and faculty of new policies. Study rooms, lounges, practice rooms and tables on the second floor of the library did not have sanitizing solutions for students to wipe down the area before and after use. Kittle said he is open to including more sanitizing stations upon requests and concerns from the student body. 

Pilon and Muhammad said they would like to see more hand sanitizing stations and places for disposable masks for students to use in case of emergency. The CHRT is open to the idea of adding more stations upon student concerns

“It’s not likely to be transmitted from surface transmissions … Our concern should be about those physical contacts, wearing masks and those sorts of things,” Kittle said.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that high touch surface areas should be cleaned and disinfected daily along with wearing a mask and social distancing to decrease the amount of exposure to COVID-19. The CDC recommends specifically for communal living common areas such as lounges, kitchens and bathrooms to have soap, gloves, hand sanitizer of 60% alcohol or higher, tissues, trash receptacles and, if possible, disposable masks.

“We’re monitoring a number of what I would say are qualitative factors such as the delivery of the education, as well as then student support services in areas like dining, then there are quality quantitative indicators that have to do with the rate of infection,” Kittle said. “Because we are testing more, and we’re testing students who have been exposed, those numbers are going to increase.”

Campus residents and visitors are required to wear a mask in all public spaces inside and outdoors when a distance of six feet cannot be kept between persons. Those who are found not wearing a mask will face the student conduct process, which allows students to have three warnings, the final warning including a $50 fine. With this policy, there are no mandatory reporters, however, if someone is seen without wearing a mask they can be reported to student life.

“I think we all have to hold each other accountable and I think we have different responsibilities as well as some shared responsibilities,” Kittle said. “I think students have greater influence. … I think eventually that is going to lead to us not just being here a week or two weeks and really being able to persist.”

MONITORING MORE THAN PHYSICAL HEALTH

While students and faculty have worried about their physical health, mental and emotional health has also become a concern. Larimer said she felt this semester has been harder than others on her mental health, but the moments spent with her family provide a break from her everyday worries. 

“At this point in the semester, I don’t think I am taking care of my mental health, and this worries me for my sake and for many of my colleagues in the same boat,” Larimer said. “I am a parent of a toddler, so the parts of my day spent caring for her include lots of opportunities to focus on the world as she sees it, delightfully full of flowers to smell and balls to kick.”

Muhammad felt the transition between her in-person classes and hybrid classes during the Fall Term have impacted her mental health the most. 

“One day you’re going to class and the next day, right before class, your professor could tell you something different,” Muhammad said. “I feel like things [in general] are really unorganized.”

Wartburg students have access to Pathways, where they can have a telehealth or Zoom call with licensed mental health professionals. The college also hosted a “Managing Stress in COVID-19” on Sept. 8 and 10 with more sessions being discussed for Sept. 16 and 18 with both in-person and remote options. Additionally, Kittle said students in isolation and in quarantine are receiving checkups from multiple campus members including professors and residential life employees. 

“Let us know if your mental or physical health are making it feel impossible to complete something. … It is also harder for us to monitor students through the computer or behind masks,” Larimer said.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

The unknown about COVID-19 created concerns for professors and students alike, including Larimer. She finds it difficult in her classes to weigh the benefits and risks of her decisions when not all the information about the virus is available.

“SARS-CoV-2 really scares me, for my and my family’s sake, as well as for my students and colleagues.  As a neuroscientist I’m used to there being many unknowns in science, but the current lack of information on things like longer distance transmission and long term health consequences terrifies me.” 

Sundblad said the opinions faculty members have on returning to campus to learn have been varying, but stressed the hard work and safety measures each one is taking to protect and help students. 

“Students should know that we are dedicated to our students and Wartburg College,” Sundblad said. “I try to remind my own students, and myself, that this semester, more than any other, is going to require that we are all willing to be flexible, empathetic and compassionate with one another.”

Students and faculty have been advised to monitor their mental and physical health daily with check-ins for COVID-19 symptoms on info.center. Throughout the Fall Term students are encouraged to talk with their professors regarding their comfort level of in-person or hybrid learning. For more information about Wartburg College’s opening plan and guidelines, go to wartburg.edu/knights-care.

MORE COVID COVERAGE: WARTBURG BANS STUDENT FROM CAMPUS, QUARANTINE/ISOLATION RULES BROKEN

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s