September 24, 2020

Commuters find ways to adapt as classes go hybrid

Commuter Haley Emelko only had two words to describe her schedule this semester: organized chaos.

Eighty minutes.

Senior Haley Sante would spend 40 minutes — on a good day, without traffic — on her drive to her Political Science classes. The drive would consist of coffee and sometimes music. Sometimes, it would be podcasts. Comedy, politics, health, history, whatever, it didn’t matter to Sante as long as it made the time pass.

She’d drive home after her classes, her time spent driving reaching a total of 80 minutes or more.

That is, until her schedule entirely changed.

When the semester began, Sante chose the most fuel-efficient schedule. She expected classes in-person, but as professors released their plans, some of her classes changed to an online format while others remained in-person. Slowly, one by one, her professors moved her courses all online, with her last professor leaving it up to the students to vote on whether class was in-person or online.

“At that point, all of my other classes were online, and it would’ve been more of an inconvenience to drive to campus for one class,” Sante said.  

Now, she’ll finish her semester online — again. Sante is in her last semester but can’t spend it with her professors and friends. The commute is too long and the time between classes is too short.

“I was worried that there wouldn’t be enough quiet spaces for me to do my online class on campus, so I knew I’d have to go home,” Sante said. “I would’ve had no choice but to leave my campus class early or arrive late to my online course – neither of which I wanted to do.”

Webster has designated areas for students who have Zoom meetings after an in-person class. They’re scattered around campus — some in the East Academic Building, some in Priest house and some in the library. These spots are all first-come, first-serve.

Junior Haley Emelko faced the same dilemma: drive 20 minutes home and be late to class or switch her entire schedule.

Emelko went from five in-person lectures and one online course to two hybrid and four entirely online classes.

“The information about which classes were changing from lectures to hybrid was coming in sporadically and messing up when I would commute to school,” Emelko wrote in an email to The Journal. “There would be no way I could do a lecture and make it home in time for an online class and I didn’t want to sit in a classroom with my mask on in a Zoom class when I could be at home eating goldfish.”

Emelko summarized her schedule in two words — organized chaos. 

Professor John Chappell feels the frustration of organized chaos and for his students like Sante. He planned for class to be hybrid with face-to-face meetings for the fall semester but decided against any in-person classes after watching other campuses shut down.

“Teaching students like Haley Sante for the final time—remotely as we’re doing—generates a feeling of sadness and loss,” Chappell said. “The term I feel right now is detached, detached from my students and detached from my colleagues.” 

He explained that while his students are learning from home, he’s instructing from his office. Other professors in his department of Political Science instruct their students from home, so he doesn’t see them except in Zoom meetings. He has hope for the latter part of the semester, keeping his fingers crossed for some face-to-face meetings.

Chappell said his aim has been to be as supportive as possible for his students. Having a daughter who had her senior year of high school taken away made him resonate more with students. The spring semester had also encouraged Chappell to be more accommodating since it proved to be challenging for his students’ mental health.

The professor routinely started checking up on his students. He gave them his number, told them to contact him and talk about whatever they were feeling as long as they were comfortable, and would give extensions on deadlines. 

“I had students who felt like they lost their sense of direction, their sense of purpose,” Chappell said. “I was trying to remind them, ‘You didn’t lose your sense of purpose, it’s still there.’ I was trying to nudge them in a compassionate way.”

For students like Sante, these accommodations have gone a long way. She’s bought a desk and is giving herself breaks from the screen to not burn out so quickly. Sante has accepted there isn’t much else the school could do for her or other commuters.

“We’re all still learning and figuring things out – students and faculty included.  Some people have been very harsh and critical of the university’s decision to hold some classes in-person,” Sante said. “I understand people’s concerns, but there is no good answer.  However, I do wish that the university took an “all or nothing approach”—  either everyone goes back or nobody goes back.  That would’ve eliminated all of the commuter issues.”

There’s one obstacle Sante has yet to overcome — the devastation of a last semester online.

“Ending my Webster career like this is heartbreaking,” Sante said. “The relationships I’ve developed with other students and professors can’t be replicated in a virtual format.”

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