Two weeks ago students all across the country went back to their respective universities. Fellow KSR intern Alex Weber has been showing us what life at UK during a global pandemic looks like from a student’s perspective. Now, as KSR’s resident EKU student, I will tell you how the school 30 minutes south of Lexington is handling COVID-19.
Before students got back in the classroom, EKU President David McFaddin decided to relegate some classes online, with few being in person. Most students have at most one or two classes in person. I, somehow in my last semester full of electives, ended up with four of my five classes being either in person or with the hybrid format.
The biggest takeaway for me is how almost every class and procedure seems to be different. For example, I have a yoga class every Monday and Wednesday morning. I know what most of you are thinking, but it’s an easy elective, okay? Anyway, the class is filled to capacity and meets on its routine schedule. We are encouraged to stay ten feet apart while we do our morning routines, but are also told it is okay to not wear the mask while doing the exercises. Even though we are ten feet away from one another, that procedure still makes me uncomfortable considering it is in the Weaver building, which is notorious for being one of the nastiest buildings on campus, and I already know of one classmate who has had the virus. One of the other “yogis” is on the Colonel football team, which has already had multiple players quit because of the team’s lack of COVID-19 response.
Kicker, Landon White, resigned today from the team due to frustrations from coaching staff COVID response
— Barstool EKU (@EKUBarstool) August 5, 2020
The yoga class has easily been the most nerve-racking class since coming back, but the ‘pen and paper’ classes have been relatively smooth for me for two weeks. For the professors, not so much.
When it comes to lecture or ‘pen and paper’ classes, most professors have had to deal with splitting up the class into smaller groups, which can put a strain on the content. For example, we have a class that has been reduced to half capacity in the computer lab so everyone can stay socially distanced. This means students are getting half the content because instead of teaching students two days a week, my professor can only teach half of his students one day a week.
I met with one of my professors, Dr. Michael Randolph, on how the transition has been for professors and his outlook on the future for this semester.
“It sucks,” the longtime professor said.
One of the biggest strains for Randolph was the last-minute switch in room assignments.
“They screwed up on our room assignments. We were supposed to be in a big room, and it didn’t happen. At the last minute, I had to alter and do a staggered class. Now, I’ve got to try to condense 14 weeks’ worth of content into seven. I don’t do well online; I would rather meet half face to face, then the other half face to face instead of trying to do an asynchronous thing online.”
Despite the early semester struggles, he’s been able to manage. In fact, EKU has handled everything pretty well. Most buildings have hand sanitize and check-in station at the door, they’ve limited two-way entrances, and professors have arranged for their classes to be flexible and spread out. Still, Randolph noted it also falls on the students.
“The impact is going to be on the students if they do what they’re supposed to do. I know it’s hard to sit in your room for however long, but if we can all bite this bullet for a few months, hopefully, it’ll be okay.”
Despite the formality that this whole operation falls on the students, there is a portion of EKU students (well, college students everywhere) that simply can’t help but get their partying in. Last weekend, this video of a house party on the campus of EKU went viral on Twitter (although the original caption is NSFW).
Since the video hit the internet, the student hosting the party commented on an EKU student Instagram page saying he takes full ownership and that “he’s not going to let coronavirus ruin his 21st birthday party.”
In the week following the video, EKU students and faculty received an email from the newly-appointed president, stating there will be zero tolerance for parties like the one seen in the video. Anyone who breaks those guidelines will now run the risk of suspension or expulsion. The numbers from the party have yet to come in, but of course there’s a chance a large gathering like that party leads to an outbreak.
As of right now, there are 38 active COVID-19 cases at EKU, a pretty manageable number, all things considered. But if things get out hand, is it possible EKU students can learn online while still living on campus? Dr. Randolph thinks so.
“If it came down to having to go online, it wouldn’t be the best thing, but we did it last semester, we could make it work for this semester. I want to believe that if we make it through September without shutting down, we’ll be fine. The big challenge is if we have to move online, what are we going to do with some of the students? Can we keep them on campus? Some of these students would rather be here, locked in their dorm for 23 hours a day, because it might be a terrible situation at home. For some students as well, when we shut down last semester WiFi could be hard to access, especially in Eastern Kentucky. I think the university could make arrangements.”
No one can predict the future and see if EKU makes it until the end of the semester without having to make serious adjustments. New information comes every day. We could be home next week, for all we know. One thing is certain: we all miss normal.
“I’m not used to seeing the hallways empty like this,” Randolph said sadly. “Not having students come into my room to cut up. I miss being around my students. It’s just not the same.”
In my time at EKU, I’m not sure if anyone has been more critical of the university than me, but this difficult semester has taught me two things. The first being not to have taken my experience at EKU so harshly. In my last semester, I won’t get the homecoming tailgate, the Halloween parties, the chance to catch up with my professors or peers. I’m going to miss moments like that, and I have met some of my lifetime friends thanks to my time here. The second thing is there are people who work there, like Dr. Randolph, who DO actually care. Is the reason we’re back on campus for money? Sure, that’s almost a given. But there is a huge strain on the social aspect with people that truly care about you, and that has been the hardest thing.
I don’t know what the next few months will hold, but EKU is doing what they can to keep their students safe. It’s just up to us.