Student leadership expressed their experiences during the COVID-19 crisis last spring semester — and their hopes for fall planning — in a report released in early July.
The report, prepared by Laura Lindenfeld, dean of School of Journalism and director of Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, and Kara DeSanna, assistant provost for Learning Outcomes and Operations, gathered anonymous representatives from the Graduate Student Organization (GSO) and the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) for two listening sessions conducted on June 17 and June 22.
“With the student focus groups, we understood that the initial move out was stressful, and it happened really quickly,” Lindenfeld said. “There were many powerful stories. Students had to get rid of their things, since they couldn’t just up and leave…it made me more empathetic to what these students went through.”
When questioning student leadership about Stony Brook’s administrative decision-making last semester, many voiced their concerns regarding the “lack of central communication” and feelings of “mistrust and confusion” that came from the absence of an official announcement during the initial crisis. The lack of communication led to a student-led protest on March 12, where students demanded answers from the university’s administration. Other issues brought forward by students included the “limited notice” regarding campus housing, the loss of expensive appliances and a loss of at-home resources for continuing courses.
“The report provides a balanced account of our testimonial,” Anand Aiyer, GSO’s Treasurer, wrote in an email. “We wish to reiterate the importance of communication from the administration, the importance of transparency and accountability.”
Although there were concerns displayed over at-home resources, student feedback on the transition to online learning was positive.
“A lot of work from home issues such as wifi access displayed the complexity of student dealings,” DeSanna said. “With the feedback from students, however, the most profound point was that students were seeing this as an opportunity to innovate in an online environment.”
For fall planning, there has been much concern conveyed over returning to campus, with both undergraduate and graduate student leadership noting their worries. Such concerns surround the safety of students with “vulnerable conditions,” the minimizing of public transit, as well as the small number of in-person courses that will still take place. The possibility of a second wave of the virus was also discussed, as well as students’ confusion over the school’s prescribed “flex” model that plans to utilize hybrid learning, leaving students with the option to attend physical class, or to stream from home. One student explained that part of the confusion lies in the logistics when it comes to deciding who can and cannot enter the classroom.
“The Fall 2020 semester will be unique in the sense that in general, social distancing guidelines will limit the social aspect that we often see on campus,” Shaheer Khan, a senior political science major and the president of the USG, said. “We can anticipate a general change in what campus usually looks and feels like during the Fall semester.”
Khan said USG is working on organizing minimized events to coincide with social distancing guidelines in the fall. They are also securing a limited supply of personal protective equipment like face masks, disinfectants, and hand sanitizers that students can access when needed.
The concerns of a second wave can be linked to the spike of cases across several states, including Florida, Arizona, and Texas as many states begin to reopen. According to an article by Dr. Lisa Maragakis, an infectious disease specialist from John Hopkins Medicine, the world is still in the first wave of the pandemic, but the possibility of another large surge is likely to occur before the fall season.
Between the graduate and undergraduate participants, more specific concerns were also noted. Graduates may face challenges with dissertations in terms of accessibility of resources, and are unsure of funding and costs of living come the fall semester.
“Graduate student fees and the high cost of on campus rent are big challenges to the graduate student community,” said Aiyer. “[Also], a majority of the graduate students are International students and have not received any stimulus from the federal government and are further at risk in case of any change in policy from the DHS and ICE.”
Looking toward the upcoming semester, undergraduates referred to the loss of campus community, including event cancellations and dorming experiences, particularly for incoming freshmen.
“Unfortunately, some big decisions are not up to us,” said Lindenfeld. “If the governor decides to close schools, we’re closed. It hasn’t been easy, and there have been dire consequences, but we have to be patient, putting personal needs aside and making sure everyone is cared for.”
Lindenfeld and DeSanna also prepared a report on faculty discussions regarding the spring and fall semesters. Lindenfeld hopes to continue with surveying and other types of reports in the near future.
Both the student and faculty survey reports can be accessed through the Stony Brook Provost website.