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On-campus parking lots and garages have seen an increase in student traffic this semester.

After over a year of online classes, the return to in-person learning has been great. However, there are definitely some challenges that have come with it. As students are welcomed back to campus, some may be yearning for the days of wearing pajamas and sitting in bed during a lecture. That needs to be recognized and legitimized. 

Reem Al-Khoja, a senior at JMU, experienced this yearning. 

“In the beginning, it was a little bit hard, when you could just open your laptop and attend class,” Al-Khoja said.  “Now you have to get up, get out of bed and go to class.”

During fall 2020, JMU held almost all of its classes online. 

While some students decided not to return to campus in the fall of 2020, many still came back. Loads of students were taking their classes from the comfort of their apartments — a major shift in how learning looked. It was easy to half-listen to a lecture while making a cup of coffee. It was easy to roll out of bed ten minutes before the class started.

As last year ended, some JMU students hadn’t stepped foot in Harrisonburg the entire year. Now, almost all of JMU’s classes are being held in person — a move that required ample relearning processes.

 “It feels very different,” Al-Khoja said, “but I’ve gotten used to it.

While some students have seemed to find routine, others have struggled with COVID-19 anxiety. 

Some students may be thrilled to see other — masked — faces in the classroom, but it may still feel weird and uncomfortable for many.

Chloe Tarbell, a senior at JMU, has experienced COVID-19 anxiety when transitioning back to in-person classes. For Tarbell, much of it comes from resocialization.

“I think the anxiety that comes with being around people,” Tarbell said, “that was really stressful.”

This anxiety isn’t uncommon. It’s happening with students not only throughout the country but throughout the world. In a study conducted by PLOS ONE, a peer-reviewed science community, they discovered that in first-year college students, “rates of moderate-severe anxiety increased 39.8 percent and rates of moderate-severe depression increased 47.9 percent from before to mid-pandemic.” Drawing from this data, one can conclude that the pandemic has severely impacted students’ mental health at an alarming rate as they return to classrooms.  

“My perception of space has changed a lot,” Tarbell said. “Now, I walk into a classroom, and I’m like, ‘Wow, these people are sitting, like, really close to me.’” 

Alyssa Ames-Sikora is a faculty member at the Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders Westchester. She spoke about anxiety affecting students in the classroom, stating, “Anxiety and fear are normal human emotions, and they can be helpful when they prevent us from making bad choices and keeping ourselves safe. However, anxiety can be problematic when our fear level is elevated but the threat in the environment is low.” 

Even with social distancing precautions, masks and vaccinations, COVID-19 can still spread. While the environment at a university can feel secure, there’s always a bit of a risk. Not all students follow COVID-19 safety measures, and not everyone is vaccinated. This puts other students at a risk. 

The transition to in person has also forced students to learn differently. Students may have gotten so used to watching lectures online and taking exams virtually that this transition can be hard as well, Al-Khoja said.

“I took some exams, and the averages have been pretty low,” Al-Khoja said. “We haven’t taken an in-person exam in almost two years, and we just don’t know how to memorize stuff now.” 

Students became so comfortable with relying on notes and resources that the act of studying became completely different. While of course, these notes and resources were allowed, they may have set students back this year when taking exams. 

“We were used to taking exams where we would have to find the stuff,” Al-Khoja said. “We didn’t have to actually have them in our brain.”

This additionally accounts for more anxiety. While this anxiety isn’t COVID-19 related, it brings back a fear for many students: test anxiety. The ability to take exams in the comfort of a student’s own home may have alleviated that anxiety a bit. Now back in the classroom, that anxiety is definitely apparent for students. 

While it may be great to be back in the classroom, don’t feel bad for yearning for the days of online learning. It’s normal, and developing new routines takes time. Some day, students will look back on this crazy college experience and be proud of themselves for getting through it.