by Leah Dwyer
As the holidays quickly approach and college semesters come to an end, SUNY Purchase students and staff look back on an isolated semester.
During the fall 2020 semester, SUNY Purchase decided to put the majority of classes online, leaving only 700 students on campus.
“It’s been, and continues to be, a single, evolving, complex crisis experience,” said Casey Haskins, a professor in philosophy at the school. “For many students and others, I know it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call this experience traumatic, in ways that bear partial comparison to being at war. It’s been a semester unlike any other in my three decades of teaching.”
Francis Pace-Nuñez, a junior acting major who was on campus this past semester, said, “It feels like a hallucination, to see this campus that you’ve known to be so full of chaos and hecticness on Saturday night, to just be quiet.”
A weird semester, however, doesn’t necessarily mean a bad one.
Sebastian Bass, a senior photography major who lived on campus, said, “This semester was actually unbelievably great, believe it or not.”
Literature professor Dolores Obuch taught online for the first time this semester. “All of my fears about remote teaching were unfounded,” she said, “I really enjoyed the experience!”
Being a new experience for everyone, this semester was full of some trial and error, as well as hope for improvement in the coming semesters.
This semester was extremely odd,” said Saniyah Hall, a sophomore dance major who spent the fall semester on campus.“ I hoped we are able to have performances, even if that is live streaming or social distanced watching.”
Looking back, internet issues seemed to be a problem across the board.
“I've had many Wi-Fi troubles myself,” said Jean Ings, sophomore playwriting and screenwriting major. “I've even had a couple of classes where the professor themself disappeared out of class.”
Students, besides having to deal with internet issues, also had to deal with Moodle frustration and not receiving emails back from professors.
“Sometimes I got confused in the syllabus or in a lecture, I would be so left behind,” said sophomore Christopher Lindsey. “It would be difficult contacting some professors. They don’t email you back, and then it’s on me, even though I'm asking for help.”
Students online seemed to have mostly positive feedback about their professors’ ability to balance effective teaching and sympathy.
Madiha Aziz, a sophomore psychology major, who struggled with family members falling very ill with COVID stated that some professors were willing to accommodate her and relieve some of her stress. “During those times where you’re kind of hanging in the balance and you don’t know which way it’s going to go, it is impossible to really do anything,” she said, “So, any professor that has been willing to be flexible I appreciated that so much.”
Unfortunately, not all professors were as accommodating. “I think sometimes, they forget that because everything is stable in their lives, doesn’t mean that all the students are at home living stable lives with nothing going on,” she said.
“I personally think school handled COVID extremely well,” said Hall. “I believe the school as a whole, including staff and students, really played their part well this fall.”
Bass said, “The school has had an incredible handle on COVID, I really don’t think they could’ve done anything better.”
“I had cool experiences sometimes,” said Pace-Nuñez. “But a lot of that was counteracted by very definite stress.” He went on to explain the anxiety around possibly being a COVID carrier in a small area like campus, despite partaking in all the safety measures.
“I genuinely think we could have used a couple of off days,” said Hall. “This semester was just a tad overwhelming given the circumstances.”
A lot of students experienced feelings of isolation due to classes being via Zoom.
“It’s hard being trapped in the house all day and when classes end it’s already nighttime,” said Lindsey. “It makes you feel kind of trapped like you’re not socializing with other people.”
“In a lot of my classes online, most students don't turn on their cameras,” said Ings, “It feels very isolating sometimes.”
Haskins has found that using Zoom breakout rooms has aided in fixing this isolated feeling. “Dividing the class up into smaller discussion groups allows students to connect with each other more directly in ways that can mitigate the isolating effects of being in one’s own individual Zoom bubble,” he said.
Haskins and Obuch have been able to take some pieces of gold out of all the stress in teaching online for the first time.
“One thing I’ve allowed myself to do more in remote teaching is to veer away more from a certain traditionally serious professorial demeanor and be more spontaneous and provocative,” said Haskins.
“Teaching online seems so much more personal and closer up,” said Obuch. “It is almost as though they are guests in my house and I in their houses and the teaching, therefore, is more personal and friendly.”
All in all, students and professors found this a very mixed bag of a semester.
“It was a very weird semester,” said Pace-Nuñez. “Sometimes it’s just like I'm stressed and sad and I want to hug everyone, why can’t I hug everyone! And then sometimes it’s just great no one is around me the sun is out the moon is just taking care of me and the both of those truths exist and they both battled within the experience.”