Opinion: College students grapple with pandemic fallout
The image many people might have when they first think of students and the coronavirus is a beach in Florida full of revelers. Initially, many students viewed the coronavirus as an extended spring break, getting an extra week in the sun. But when campuses shut down, their perspective quickly changed.
As a result of the pandemic, in-person classes on campuses across the country have been canceled. Countless students have been displaced, isolated or forced to return home in the middle of the academic semester. They didn’t get to say goodbye to their friends and finish out their senior years. Many worry about the long-term impact on their careers.
To help with the transition away from a traditional in-person college experience, the Network of enlightened Women, known as NeW, of which I serve as president, has moved most of our programs online. As the nation’s premier organization for conservative university women, we are continuing to build a community for students even at a time when our campus chapters can’t meet in person. We have held a Zoom book club discussion on Nikki Haley’s book, "With All Due Respect," a Facebook Live on tips on how to study and work from home successfully, and a Facebook Live on Equal Pay Day featuring Romina Boccia from The Heritage Foundation.
While learning to connect more via social media and webinars our students have gained a new appreciation for in-person connections, and this is something they will likely carry with them.
I asked some NeW leaders what else they have learned from the pandemic and how the coronavirus has impacted them. Here’s what they had to say:
When did you start making changes because of the coronavirus?
“I first made changes in my life because of the coronavirus by not going on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land over my spring break at the beginning of March. Instead, I flew home to Louisiana four days before I would have left for Israel. This was well before people started having to comply with stay-at-home orders. Only cautionary guidance was being given at the time, and my family and I decided it would be best for me to be home with them as we were unsure how the situation would progress.” — Elise LaFleur, senior at The Catholic University of America
“I started making changes to my life when GW canceled in-person classes. The first thing I did was say goodbye to the friends I knew I wouldn’t see for a very long time. I then packed as many belongings as I could fly home with, just in case I had to finish the semester in Massachusetts. At that point, I still didn’t believe that things would get as bad as they did.” — Bri Mirabile, senior at George Washington University
How has the coronavirus impacted you?
“The coronavirus has essentially ended my last semester of college early. I was unable to return to my school after spring break and have, instead, been working to complete my classes remotely. I was unable to take part in many senior celebration traditions that I spent the last four years looking forward to. The most difficult part for me was the cancellation of my school’s graduation ceremony, and we do not yet know if another ceremony will be possible. I am very mindful of the devastating impact the coronavirus has had on people, especially those working on the front lines. While I would never try to compare missing senior celebrations or graduation ceremonies to what they are going through, I am giving myself grace and allowing myself to grieve everything I am missing.” — Katie Robbins, senior at the University of Virginia
“As a college student, courses went entirely online, and I had to move home. Being home 24/7 has been a big adjustment. I’ve been trying to find a routine that is comfortable to ensure that I am not distracted and can still produce quality work. The college I attend started using Zoom to have class conferences and began implementing an optional pass/fail grading system for the semester.” — Charlotte Townsend, junior at College of Charleston
“I’ve always been frugal with spending money, but now that I can’t work my job on campus anymore, I’ve been especially careful with my spending. I’m eating two meals a day to make food stretch longer. I walk or run to the grocery store instead of taking an Uber, and I don’t order delivery or takeout. I don’t know how the economy is going to look in a year, but if it’s anything like it was after the recession, I know that applying for jobs in a year is going to be difficult.” — Julia Canzano, junior at Boston College
What is the most difficult part about not being on campus now?
“The most difficult part about not being on campus is not being able to say goodbye. It was during my senior spring break when I learned my university would be going remote for the rest of the semester. When I left campus a week prior, I never could have anticipated that would be the last time I would lead a normal college life. For me the real difficulty lies not in missing the big events, but in missing the small things. Especially with spring approaching, it has been difficult not being around the buzz of campus. Be it seeing students out on the lawn studying, throwing Frisbees or enjoying the last moments of senior year with friends. Graduating college is a milestone in our lives, and my heart breaks for my fellow seniors that will never have the chance to properly close this chapter.” — Madison Kutruff, senior at Xavier University
“Aside from graduation being canceled, the most difficult part about not being on campus is not having spontaneous interactions with friends. At GW, I study in a townhouse we have specifically for honors students. You never know who you’ll bump into, and I’ve had hours-long conversations about everything from my class readings to the history of the Sears corporation (which is way more interesting than you’d think). Not having those one-off interactions with people I don’t know well enough to call once a week is really limiting my education in the broader sense of learning about other people and what they're interested in.” — Bri Mirabile, senior at George Washington University
How do you think the coronavirus will impact you long-term?
“Long-term, I think the coronavirus has made me more aware of how precious time is with the people I care about in my life. Not knowing when your time will be cut short unexpectedly makes you live in the moment more. I think now I have a renewed sense of appreciation for all of the time that I had in college and the people I met and the memories I made. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.” — Elise LaFleur, senior at The Catholic University of America
“Coronavirus has impacted the way I think about the world we live in. It has made me think more about the importance of coming together (or staying apart in this case) during times of universal suffering. In the face of this tragedy, I’ve come to realize more than ever the impact faith and optimism can have on the human spirit. Much of what happens in the world may be out of our control, but it is through our response that we can better prepare for a brighter future.” — Madison Kutruff, senior at Xavier University
“Long-term, I think that this will cause many college seniors, like myself, to have a more difficult time finding jobs after graduation.” — Gabrielle Picard, senior at the University of Mississippi
Like the rest of us, students, conservative and liberal alike, are wrestling with how to deal with the coronavirus. They grieve the loss of their semester together, especially graduating seniors, and hope the long-term impact on their careers will be limited. These women are our future doctors, nurses, first responders and more.
We can all work to help each other build the community we need. As students scroll on their phone, they shouldn’t only see content from liberal pundits and Hollywood stars.
We don’t know how long social distancing will last, but it could go beyond this semester. Some summer classes have already been canceled. As conservatives, we must make sure young conservative women have an intellectual home in the communities being built online.
Karin Lips is the president of the Network of enlightened Women and a senior fellow with the Independent Women’s Forum.