Coronavirus Hits College Campuses

Everyone’s life has been touched by the coronavirus pandemic, including college students. One by one, colleges and universities in Atlanta and across the state have closed to protect students from the virus. Classes have moved online, kids were forced out of housing, and graduation ceremonies have been canceled. Daily college life has completely changed, forcing many students to quickly adjust.

As news of the coronavirus unfolded last month and the severity of the pandemic became clearer to everyone, student housing was one of the first things to go. Before classes even moved online, students living in dorms were told to vacate—some quicker than desired. Mary Mangual, a senior at Emory University who has written for Georgia Voice, was one such student. However, with family living in McDonough, Mangual was luckier than most.

“We had only a week to move out,” Mangual told Georgia Voice. “I know for some people, that turnaround logistically and financially couldn’t work. Most people were on spring break and now had to buy two plane tickets … It was a lot [of Emory] to ask.” According to Mangual, students who were worried about going back to older parents and high-risk family members for fear of infecting them were still forced to move out. “I had a very big problem with the way they handled requests for [housing] extensions,” she said. “That was way too much uncertainty to be throwing on people who desperately need to stay … that, to me, is absurd.”

Liam Oweida, a junior at Georgia Tech, had a similar experience. He moved back in with family in Georgia after getting kicked out. He said a select few students were allowed to stay on campus. “[Y]ou could only stay if you were in one of a few specific cases, like if you’re an international student and travel to your country is banned,” he said.

Soon after students were told they would need to leave their dorms came the news of online classes. For many, especially those who hadn’t taken an online class before, this adjustment was not an easy one to make. “It’s been far more difficult to do schoolwork,” Oweida said of the online transition. “It definitely doesn’t feel like I’m in school anymore. Three of my classes aren’t doing videos or [virtual] meetings at all, so I just have to scrape together what resources I can find online.”

Reagan Sapp, a senior at Georgia State University, also found the transition difficult, but says professors have so far been understanding. “It was slow going at first,” Sapp said. “I feel like this caught all of us, including the administration, off guard … [but] the faculty at Georgia State are so amazing, they’ve been cool about it.”

While the online transition has affected all students, some were caught in extenuating circumstances because of the pandemic. Morgan Wiese, also a senior at Georgia State, had a spring break study abroad trip to Italy canceled. The trip would have accounted for credits she needed to graduate. After weeks of communication with the professor—“It took two or three weeks before we got the full picture of what the semester was going to look like for us”—Wiese finally learned the credits wouldn’t be dropped; the trip would just be replaced with a paper. Apart from the communication issues, Wiese said she was disappointed about the trip’s cancellation, but understanding. “There was some sadness and fear [about graduating], but after that blew over, I just accepted it was the new normal,” she said.

One of the most disappointing effects of this pandemic, though, is on the class of 2020. Mangual, Sapp, and Wiese will all graduate this semester, but none will be having a commencement ceremony. “[I]t is disappointing to go through all four years and [not get] graduation and the opportunity to be recognized with everybody else you’ve worked so hard with,” Sapp said.

Wiese agreed, saying the end of her college career will be anticlimactic. “For me, graduation … was more just a way to have a conclusion, to actually know I’m done with college and my bachelor’s degree,” she said. Mangual was also disappointed, but felt even worse for the students who were the first in their families to graduate college. “The people it really sucks for are the first-generation students,” she said. “That’s a big blow for their families to not be able to see that.”

According to Mangual, Emory has reached out to students regarding somehow replacing the ceremony, but a conclusion has yet to be made. Sapp said she hasn’t yet heard anything from Georgia State about making up the ceremony.