As Katherine Sandstrum, a sophomore English major, returned home after hearing the news of JMU closing, all she could see was the final months of her sophomore year in the Grace Street Apartments, her favorite classes and time with her friends disappearing. She said she’s unsure of what the rest of the semester will look like, what it means for the future of her education and what effects it'll have in the workplace.
“I just started crying,” Sandstrum said. “I love JMU so much, and I’m really trying to do well this semester.”
After finding out about JMU’s move to online classes for the rest of the semester, senior health sciences major Caleb Fisher said it was a rollercoaster of emotions.
“There’s no happiness to this rollercoaster,” Fisher said. “It’s confusion, there’s sadness, there’s questions and an overall feeling of depression. There’s a lot to take in, and my brain really wasn’t wrapping around the idea that I wasn’t going to be able to do a lot of things that I thought I was going to be able to do.”
Sandstrum and sophomore media arts and design and communications studies double major Kate Harwood said many students are worried about their grades and being able to focus while this pandemic is happening because no one has experienced anything like it or knows how to handle it.
With the transition of in-person classes to online classes, some students are worried that it’ll negatively impact their grades and, potentially, the rest of their college careers. JMU has provided the option to make classes credit/no credit, so students may feel some relief in regard to stress over grades. Even with this option, some students may not have access to equipment needed for their majors. For sophomore music major Jake Gerl, this includes access to musical instruments such as guitars and keyboards, as well as access to concerts and performances.
“I know for myself and my classmates and friends, that we were immediately, kind of, thinking, ‘How is this going to work?’” Gerl said. “We have a lot of in-class lessons, we have ensembles — a lot of us have music lessons — and what does this mean for the rest of the semester?”
Many students said they’re feeling frustrated and confused about how to move forward without their in-class lessons and structured schedules. The transition to online learning is an adjustment, but it’s a work-in-progress, and students and professors are working together to make it work.
“I'm very worried about my grades, about my own ability to time manage, but also my professors’ own ability to turn the classes into online classes,” Sandstrum said. “I was really hoping to make the Dean's list or President’s list this semester, and now, I’m really doubting the possibility of that happening.”
Sandstrum works at a concert venue and said she has hopes of moving up in the music industry along with attending law school, but she fears that having classes go online will cause her grades to take a tumble and potentially set her back.
“None of us have experienced a global pandemic before, so it’s weird thinking about highways shutting down and people dying, so it feels very far away but yet still very prevalent," Harwood said. “I completely agree with Dr. Miller and President Alger’s decision to close the university. It’s just a really scary time overall.”
In regard to self-isolation, some students are finding ways to cope by reading, spending time outside, keeping active and maintaining a routine.
“I’ve taken to hanging out with my family a lot, especially my brother.” Sandstrum said. “My cousin just moved into town, so I’ve been making plans with her. I've finished crocheting a blanket, I’ve gotten ahead on all my classwork, I’ve made a couple of sewing projects — I’m just trying to stay distracted.”
Not only do students no longer have access to JMU’s campus and in-person resources, but some of them see JMU counselors and doctors who are no longer available to them. Sandstrum said she was recently diagnosed with bipolar I disorder and no longer has access to her therapist or psychiatrist. She said her therapist canceled all appointments and her psychiatrist moved to phone call appointments.
"That’s actually had a big impact, and I’m really worried about getting the sort of support that I need,” Sandstrum said. “I love my parents, but they don’t know when I’m acting weird as well... So, I’m telling them, ‘OK, if I start doing this, please let me know so that I can monitor myself.’ But, it's harder to lose that support system.”
With social media being a prevalent factor in many students’ daily lives, having constant access to news about COVID-19 may be stressful because of its negativity. Determining what’s real and what’s not may be tricky, too.
“I actually have all of my social media deleted because it was very anxiety-inducing before this all went down, so I can’t imagine what it’s like right now,” Lily Craig, a freshman English major, said.
Craig said she and her family get most of their information from news podcasts. She said it’s stressful because there’s something new to be worried about every day.
“It's hard to balance being socially literate and freaking yourself out and going to doomsday prepping and stuff like that, but it is important to be informed from the right sources,” Craig said.
As for Sandstrum, saying goodbye to her friends was something she hadn’t yet had the opportunity to think about.
A number of students probably didn’t expect that the Friday before spring break might be the last time they’d see some of their friends for a long time. As many students may wish they were back on campus experiencing spring on the Quad, throwing a frisbee, petting dogs and basking in the sun, Dukes may look forward to the summertime and next fall when they’re reunited.
As for the future of JMU and returning to campus, Sandstrum said she hopes to reach “a new normal.”
“Nothing is going to be the same after this experience,” Sandstrum said. “We’re going through a huge global crisis, and a lot of things are changing. JMU is the stable force in my life, and I just want to have that back.”
Contact Madison Stevens at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.