View from inside the new “normal”
Returning to school in the midst of a pandemic has impacted academic and student life at Charleston Southern University in more ways than one. In order to bring all students and employees back to campus this fall, the University Pandemic Task Force put new protocols in place—the BUCSAFE plan—for the health and safety of those on campus. While the BUCSAFE processes are necessary, they are not without their challenges.
“COVID-19 protocols have changed the way I conduct class in a major way, as I now host all classes online,” said Chelsea Eddington, assistant professor of communication. “It has become an added challenge talking to myself most of the time onscreen through Zoom when students’ cameras are off.”
While not all classes are conducted solely online, professors who conduct class in person still have an online component.
“Going back and forth from in person to online messes with the flow and has slowed me down,” said Dr. Christina Sinisi, psychology professor and chair of the department. “I also do lots of hands-on activities—some of which I still can do.”
Faced with challenges similar to fellow higher education institutions, CSU faculty and staff continue to work hard to provide the quality of education that is expected.
“My biggest challenge is probably Stagecraft and Design because we usually do quite a bit of hands-on work – drawing, drafting, sketching – that involves me leaning over students’ desks to check and/or show how to do some tasks,” said Thomas Keating, professor of theatre. “I’ve been creating videos to try to get around some of that but still find myself in close proximity to students at times.”
Students also attempt to come to terms with this new normal, but the pandemic life is taking its toll.
“It’s made me a little more anxious, and it’s harder to concentrate in class,” said Abby Bryant, a junior music therapy major.
The small class sizes at the university were used to promote professional relationships between the professors and students, but even those prove difficult in times of COVID.
“As a communication professor, I work hard to utilize the skills I have to ensure all students feel noticed, important, and prepared in my courses” said Eddington. “I do sometimes worry there might be a possibility I’m not reaching everyone, something that doesn’t happen in the classroom.”
Students also feel the strain with not being able to connect with their professors.
“I don’t feel like they know me; it’s kind of more impersonal,” said senior nursing student Morgan Walker.
Socialization has also been impacted by the pandemic. In a time where social distancing and mask wearing is critical, having a social life remains challenging. Major events have been cancelled, resident students can no longer have friends in their dorms, and meeting up with friends is difficult.
“I don’t do anything; I stay in my dorm,” said Walker. “I’m not really active right now.”
However, not all hope is lost for the social life on campus.
“If we continue to see sustained trends indicated that COVID-19 infection on campus is under control, we’ll gradually increase in person events including those for student life and campus ministries” said Laurel Glover, infection control/COVID-19 coordinator and a public health professor.
Staying safe is CSU’s number one priority, but as the semester comes to a close, what is the fate of the spring semester?
“I think mask wearing will still be a thing for us in the spring, but I think students will see football games, spring sports,” said Laurie Diel, executive assistant for the dean of students. She added that students can look forward to Sweet 16 events on campus in October and November, as well as next semester.
In October, Densonville and BucTober will provide Bucs with fun fall memories—the first is a campout at Buccaneer Field, and the second includes pumpkin carvings, kettle corn, hayrides, costume contests, and more.
More changes continue to be made as the number of COVID-19 cases maintain at minimal numbers. According to the University Pandemic Task Force, as of Oct. 5, CSU’s dining services team increased indoor seating in order to allow suitemates and roommates to dine together as a group rather than two per table.
Live worship has also been approved for the weekly Elevate services each Thursday. The worship team will adhere to the infection control measures including: 12 feet between vocalists and musicians, nonvocalists will remain masked, and LiveSafe screening will be required for both musicians and guests. Events with less than 30 attendees no longer need to be approved as long as they follow the established protocol.
This week, students were emailed a survey link to provide feedback to the task force. In his weekly email update to the campus community, President Dondi Costin said, “We assume the spring semester will look very similar to this fall as we await the wide distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine that allows us to slowly return to a new and modified normal. But the University Pandemic Task Force is committed to making sure things in the spring are better than the fall.” The survey closes on Wednesday, Oct. 14 at 5 p.m.
Shelby Hadden is a senior communication major and is an intern for the Office of Marketing & Communication.