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Not all schools responded to COVID as well as JMU did.

As the spring semester of 2020 comes to a close and students everywhere sign out of their online learning tools for the summer, a word of thanks is in order for JMU. For the past two months, as some students struggled to mentally adjust to an entirely new academic format and some labored to make financial ends meet while having to juggle coursework, JMU has done a swell job in accommodating its community — whereas, in some areas, other universities haven’t.

For more than one reason, college students often find themselves struggling. The 2015 Ohio State National Student Financial Wellness Study concluded that 70% of college students reported experiencing stress about their finances. Combining this factor alone with stringent coursework creates a high-pressure situation. It’s no surprise that a 2018-2019 data report from Healthy Minds found 60% of college students didn’t have positive mental health with many suffering from serious depression, showing the huge impact that these elements can have on a student. Now consider the stress of a student who may also be disabled, a full-time employee, a parent and so on. Now add a global pandemic. 

It’s safe to assume that many students needed help from their universities in the past few months, and JMU delivered. At the start of the coronavirus madness in late March, “Dukes Outreach Guides” were assigned to each JMU student through their email. These guides were staff members meant to be points of contact for students navigating through the pandemic in case they needed help finding resources or had a question to ask with no one to turn to. These Outreach Guides could’ve been the only supporting individual a student had in the wake of coronavirus.   

As the semester pushed on, various departments emailed surveys, like the Honors College sent a wellness survey out to its students. The survey asked about the quality of a students’ living situations and their level of stress during the pandemic, adding that any Honors College staff member was available for aid at any point. Additionally, JMU continued to send constant emails of support that used language like, “…we are so incredibly proud of your strength and resiliency.” Again, these are thoughtful considerations that many students may not have anyone else in their lives asking about.

In an effort to support students academically, JMU announced the implementation of a credit/no-credit option that students can select after final grades are announced, up until May 18. Other universities, like U. Va, insisted that students choose their credit/no-credit selection prior to the release of final grades, leaving students in the impossible position of wagering their decisions on final course grades that weren’t yet confirmed. One U. Va student, Zaki Panjsheeri, said that “…even when the UVA Student Council put out a survey that included questions on the grading policy, the Provost came out with a statement two days later saying, in effect, it wouldn’t matter what the survey says, the policy is final.”

Additionally, Panjsheeri said that he and his peers’ biggest difficulty during the pandemic has been “having our views and circumstances taken seriously.” Panjsheeri talked about how student activists have created a “Community Petition to the University of Virginia Administration Regarding COVID-19 Response,” comprised of a list of demands such as the creation of a student liaison committee including “low-income, first-generation, international, workers, and/or students with disabilities — all of whom are impacted most by the University’s decisions.” He added that the University has “…so far not met this demand.”

On the website Niche, which ranks universities based on various aspects, U. Va was ranked significantly higher than JMU on diversity in 2020, which the website defines by analyzing socioeconomic status and geographic location. Perhaps this explains why a similar student uproar has not been seen among the JMU population. Regardless of this fact, JMU has actively reached out to their student population during COVID and has worked hard with student’s best interests in mind.  

For instance, JMU has recently gathered a team to determine the protocol for distributing Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) to students. Additionally, it was announced to students through email that JMU plans to dedicate the next Giving Day to raising funds for students impacted by the coronavirus, adding that they’re specifically looking to aid those who may not be able to return in the fall due to financial complications. In an informational email, JMU even encouraged these students to share their struggles in the pandemic, if they’re comfortable, in a public spotlight through JMU.

Even at the end of it all, JMU emailed a mass survey concerning the pandemic to the general student population about what JMU did well, what was most helpful and how they can improve their outreach to students in the future with the subject line “Your Input Needed.” In general, JMU has worked well to accommodate its students in the most appropriate way possible. Thank you, JMU.  

Josie Haneklau is a junior political science and psychology major. Contact Josie at Hanekljr@dukes.jmu.edu