In addition to the regular decrease in students on campus around the holidays as students go home for break, JMU may be just as empty even with the twinkling lights on the Quad.
JMU announced that it’d be transitioning to online classes after Thanksgiving break in a Sept. 18 newsletter. Despite the transition, JMU would open campus for students to return, but it wouldn’t be mandatory, according to the newsletter.
Director of Communications and University Spokesperson Mary-Hope Vass said JMU decided to open campus to give students the option to return or remain virtual, as the campus would still be operating, similar to other Virginia colleges.
“We have faced a number of challenges throughout COVID[-19], not just this semester, but just since March,” Vass said. “The faculty and staff have worked very hard at making this a seamless transition so we are grateful for their support but also the patience and understanding from the students as well.”
Colleges across the country and in Virginia are closing campuses, going online and ending semesters early after Thanksgiving break. According to a UVA newsletter, it’s asking students who are able to return home for Thanksgiving not to return to Charlottesville until the spring to avoid travel and potential exposure.
William and Mary ended their semester in November and closed all but one undergraduate and graduate hall with students starting to return to campus in late January according to its academic calendar and residence life website. Virginia Tech transitioned to online classes following Thanksgiving break and students seeking to remain on campus registered to do so according to its housing and residence life website.
Kelly Jorgensen, a sophomore mathematics and secondary education double major, said that she was worried about the spread of COVID-19 with students coming back and forth but said she was hopeful since not that many students were returning. She said she thought JMU was adequately maintaining social distancing, but she wished it’d done more concerning the virus.
“I do think it is very risky rather than just telling people, ‘No, definitely stay at home for that two-month cold or flu season’ sort of thing,” Jorgensen said. “I don't necessarily agree with how JMU is handling it, but if the cases still remain low, that’s pretty much all I care about.”
Vass said to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19, JMU would continue its implementation of COVID-19 policies and protocols and would encourage students to follow guidelines from the Governor and Virginia Department of Health.
Ethan Johnston, a freshman marketing major, said that he decided to return to campus after Thanksgiving break. Johnston said that he wasn’t worried about the spread of COVID-19 after seeing that cases didn’t spike after students returned in October.
“I was all for it, I wasn’t even thinking about [COVID-19] that much at the time … but my plan is to make sure to get tested before I go back,” Johnston said. “Because of the implementation of the random [COVID-19] testing … along with some of the other protocols that they’re taking now, I am less worried about the spread of [COVID-19] happening after Thanksgiving break.”
Jorgensen is also a Resident Advisor in Shenandoah Hall who returned to campus after Thanksgiving break to allow dorms to open. Vass said that although certain RAs volunteered to stay on campus over Thanksgiving break, after it ended the hall staff needed to return to campus.
Jorgensen said she was disappointed but not surprised that JMU didn’t give RAs a choice to come back or not.
“It’ll just be upsetting that I don’t get to exactly be at home with … a lot of my other friends who are at other colleges,” Jorgensen said. “At the same time, if JMU wants to keep the doors open … I completely understand that RAs should be around.”
Jorgensen said that there are roughly 30 to 40 residents in her hall and that less than 10 of her residents came back after Thanksgiving break. She said she was expecting that amount to return to campus.
“Once you’re here at school for a while and you’re in a dorm room during a global pandemic that in itself can get pretty lonely and very stressful and draining,” Jorgensen said. “I think that if people have the opportunity to spend more time with family, they’re gonna take that opportunity.”
Johnston said he wasn’t completely ready to go home because he was expecting to go back after Thanksgiving break. He said he was returning to see friends and complete exams.
“Ever since going to college, I’ve had a different mindset from what home sort of means to me now because when I’m here I want to spend time with my family,” Johnston said. “I feel like I’d have a hard time focusing if I was at home rather than at school where I can actually focus on school things.”
Vass said that JMU is constantly monitoring students’ academic needs and would welcome feedback from students throughout Winter break.
“We still expect students to have a very rich academic experience from Thanksgiving through the winter break,” Vass said. “Our faculty and staff are making sure they are monitoring the needs of students.”
Both Jorgensen and Johnston said that students should make decisions that make them feel safe and comfortable.
“Do whatever you think you need to do to stay safe, and if you aren’t coming back, that’s perfectly fine,” Johnston said. “I have my reasons for wanting to come back, and I think that everyone has their own little reasons … It all comes down to individual responsibility, and as long as we all do our part, we can stay safe, and we can maintain the community that we’ve already created at JMU.”
Contact Ashlyn Campbell at email@example.com. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.