As I walked out of my dance class across campus to my job yesterday, my phone buzzed with an email notification. I felt a sense of foreboding as I clicked on the email. I didn’t even have to read it as the subject made it very clear what the Chancellor had to say: “UA Little Rock Migrates to Online Classes Immediately.” Not even an hour and a half ago, my classmates and I talked about the coronavirus and how our class would not work online. It’s not feasible for a dance class to be online. Now what we were only discussing, was a reality. Yesterday morning when I got to work at 8, Wynter, Jerry and I talked about important questions we would have — as students — if UA Little Rock decided to close. Now, all of those questions we had, is a reality.
While I was at work before my dance class, I worked on a Google Doc shared with several chairs of different departments around UA Little Rock, and helped to compile a list of questions students, faculty and staff would have about this migration — and what would happen if the campus completely closed. Currently, the offices on campus such as Undergraduate Academic Advising, Admissions, Financial Aid, etc., are still open — for now at least, we will see how long that lasts — while all classes have now been moved online. This isn’t going to work for all classes, however. Such as my dance class. I am not the only student with these concerns. I interviewed several students to get their opinion on what is happening at our university.
Trinity McCracken-Howard, a mass communication major, is angry. She doesn’t understand why UA Little Rock is doing this. “The virus is not harmful to most people of college age, so why are they acting like it is? The whole virus is blown out of proportion, we had a higher chance of getting the flu, but we did not close then, what makes this different?” Trinity feels cheated because the courses she’s enrolled in are not set up to be online, such as Reading like a Writer, Essential Elements of Poetry, Motion Graphics, and Equinox Internship. She believes that the internship will be the most difficult because they are in the process of trying to print their next journal. “My biggest concern is how this will affect those that have skill-based classes. How are you to learn proper skills if you are stuck doing everything online rather than in person? Also, will this affect graduation?”
(For context: The flu has a higher infection rate than COVID-19, but a lower mortality rate.)
Latosha Newman, another mass communication student, agrees with Trinity when it comes to the transition from face-to-face courses to online. She doesn’t believe that all courses can be online. She had this to say, “All classes can’t just go from in-class to online. It’s just not logical and a realistic decision especially when all departments are still open because you can’t shut every place down.” She understands that the university needs to take precautions. “I have mixed emotions but I do understand the need to take precautions but at the same time this is ridiculous and I can’t stress this enough: everyone is overreacting,” she said.
Like myself, Trinity and Latosha are graduating May. We’ve all been wondering how this will affect commencement. Will we still be able to walk? I know that all three of us want to walk but with how things are going, that might not happen. So far, the university has stated that commencement will still happen and they will keep us updated.
Alex Hughes, a music education student, feels alienated. Alex said: “I agree with their decision, because our well being is their top priority and that’s very admirable.” For most of us, this is a new experience. We’ve never gone through something like in our lifetime. Yes, we’ve lived through major outbreaks before — SARS, swine flu and Ebola among those — however, not to the extent where schools are closing in fear of the virus spreading. At least not in the United States. Italy is shut down because of this virus. As are several other countries. Now schools and universities across the United States are shutting down. How will that affect schools? What about parents whose children are out of school but they are still working? While yes, perhaps this type of action could help prevent coronavirus from spreading more, what will the long term effects be?
Christian Tobler, an English major, minoring in Theatre and Mathematics, is in my dance class. He joined the conversation in dance class about the coronavirus, and how our dance class could be migrated to online — if it even could be. Though he feels somber about what is happening, Christian understands the reasoning. “I would obviously rather have most courses face-to-face, but also have no desire to pass on any kind of deadly virus to those at risk.” However, Christian disagrees with the timing of the shift, and said “had they began to shift things more gradually from an earlier point in time, the issue could have resolved more efficiently.” He also feels concerned about the professors who are unfamiliar with Blackboard as well.
At our university, professors are not required to have online courses — or even to know how to operate Blackboard and other applications to have online courses. My cousin Paige, is taking American Sign Language II this semester. This class requires a lab. She’s wondering how that lab will taken care. Will her class be canceled? Other classes where being online could be a problem are: theatre, art, dance, engineering, and science. Students are anxious about how all of this is being handled.
Katie Zakrzewski, SGA president, is a double major in Criminal Justice and anthropology is one of those students feeling anxious. However, she’s also hopeful that everything will be resolved. In fact, she believes that the migration from face-to-face should’ve been done sooner. “As student body president, I want to work and continue to ensure that all student situations are addressed, and ensuring that students are sheltered, well fed, healthy and educated.”
Students aren’t the only ones who are affected by the universities decisions. I spoke to a few professors from the Rhetoric and Writing department at UA Little Rock. They all agree with the decision to close campus. Dr. George Jensen said, “I think the university has done everything it can to make a smooth transition to online. We have a number of workshops set up to help make professors who have never taught online make the switch and get up to speed. Most of my concerns are for the general public. I worry about how the virus will affect small businesses, like restaurants, and people who work in service jobs.” Dr. Jensen brought up an excellent point. What is going to happen to restaurants? If people are staying at home then they aren’t going out to eat. Those businesses are going to suffer. Dr. Heidi Harris says that her main concern is how this transition will effect students who have children, and “who are now also trying to manage their schoolwork and their childrens’ online school work.” For students who can still work but have children, how are they going to handle childcare? How are they going to handle their schoolwork plus their children. Not to mention, over time, I imagine the children will get tired of being cooped up. It is a stressful situation for all. Dr. Barbara L’Eplattenier is also worried about how this transition will effect the students. She said, “I’m also concerned about how these shifts–the push to work from home, schools letting out for two or even three weeks, increased work on the computer because we are all online — is going to impact our students. Any one of these is a major stressor and to have all three plus the possibility of illness — it’s just a LOT. I keep reminding myself and my students to breath — big breath in through the nose/out through the mouth. Repeat. It’s going to be okay.”
Who knows how long we will be face-to-face to online? Who knows how long offices will remain open? All I do know is that it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better. Even on Wednesday — before the announcement — when my cousin Paige and I went to Dollar General for hamburger buns, they were out. We went to Walmart and the entire shelf of bread was empty. We had to hunt to find one package of hamburger buns. It’s normal for people to panic and buy all the bread, milk, and eggs — it happens every single time a massive storm is about to occur — but this was different entirely. A woman overheard us talking about how crazy the fact the bread was all gone and told us to check out the toilet paper section. We walked over to the toilet paper section. . .and there were only maybe 6 to 10 packages left. In Fayetteville, it isn’t only toilet paper and bread that’s been depleted, but also rice, ramen, and other non-perishables. My uncle told us how when he went to Sam’s, and saw so many people pushing flatbeds stacked with toilet paper and other necessities. While I was scrolling through Facebook, a friend mentioned how even Amazon is running low on certain supplies such as hand sanitizer.
The paranoia is only starting, and I imagine it’s going to get worse. Schools in Arkansas are closed until the end of March. Universities are online until further notice. All campus events at my university are canceled until April 30th. And it’s not only campus events. Even events on Facebook are being canceled. DisneyLand, Disney World, Universal Studios, and many other places where a lot of people gather are closing. Sports events are closed. TV productions have stopped.
(The following is a link to what is all canceled in Arkansas: https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2020/mar/12/coronavirus-cancellations/)
We’ll have to stay vigilant and keep our eye on updates. Until then, don’t panic. Just breathe, like Dr. L’Eplattenier said. Keep yourself informed. If you have questions about what’s happening, ask someone. If you have concerns about how your university is handling the transition from face-to-face to online, email your professors. Whatever you do, don’t give into the hysteria. We’ll see how everything goes. For now, take care of yourselves and your family.