Back to Normal? Campus Opinions on In-Person Learning

The last 18 months have been extremely strange and stressful. Online learning and social distancing rules took its toll on colleges across the world. St. Mary’s students, faculty and staff were no exception to this. This is why coming back in person has our campus cautiously excited for the future. 

Junior Julia Fitzpatrick transferred last fall and has not had anything close to a normal semester at St. Mary’s until now. So far, she is loving her professors and has enjoyed seeing everyone on campus for the first time. Due to less social distancing measures, she can now hang out with more of her friends and is even looking forward to joining new clubs she did not get the chance to try last year. 

Online classes were difficult for her due to her learning best when she can interact with her professors and classmates in person. While she is excited to be back, she did note that she was “a little nervous if people decide to party, but since everyone is basically vaccinated I’m more comfortable.” 

Indeed, as of Sept. 15, the vaccination rate on campus stands at 94%, which has eased a lot of fears on campus. For instance, Joanne Goldwater, the Associate Dean for Retention and Student Success, felt much better about returning to campus with the vaccine and mask mandates in place. While there is still some worry for vulnerable populations on campus, she expressed that she trusts St. Mary’s students and believes that they “…have the capacity and capability to stay safe.” 

Goldwater did not enjoy teaching her sign-language classes on Zoom as they exhausted and frustrated her. If the college had continued a completely hybrid model, she was not sure if she would have continued teaching at all, so she is very excited and relieved classes are in person now. From a business perspective, Goldwater also noted that for a small college like St. Mary’s, it was simply not sustainable to continue doing everything online, even if she herself did enjoy how distraction-free her home office was. 

Professor Charles Musgrove of the history department expressed similar sentiments when asked about whether the college would ever consider returning to a hybrid model. While it is always going to be a remote possibility, he does not believe it is going to happen given the current political climate surrounding going back online. 

Like many, Musgrove is concerned about more vulnerable populations on campus because St. Mary’s does not have a 100% vaccination rate yet, but trusts that masking and mandated vaccinations will keep the community safe. He would have applied to teach via Zoom if he had any doubts about this semester. Although there is still some worry and uncertainties, Musgrove expressed, “I’m a lot less pessimistic about this semester than I was last semester,” which seems to be a very similar sentiment to many this fall. 

It seems the majority of people are glad to be back on campus. Seeing the campus transformed from a ghost town of last year to the bustling college it is now has been a welcome change for students, faculty, and staff. There is a hesitant hope in the air that maybe the college could be going back to some kind of normal, but we will have to just wait and see.

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