365 Days Later: College Students Speak Their Minds on COVID

March 11 marked the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization’s declaring COVID-19 a pandemic. Since then, nearly 30 million people in the United States have contracted the virus and over half a million people have died from the virus, which is by far the most per country across the world.

However, as businesses begin to open and people begin spending their second batch of stimulus checks, I wanted to reflect on the past 365 days and see what we college students have learned.

I decided to talk to a few college students from different universities around the country and get their thoughts on how well their school is handling students on campus in flux, and what they can do better as a whole.

Although there were many people who dealt with the difficulties of the pandemic, it appears as though college students continue to get the raw end of the deal. With many of them returning to campus this past fall full of uncertainty — but teased with the prospect of in-person classes — they all will come flooding back to campuses across the country to put their school’s protocols to the test.

By and large, the University of Pittsburgh has mitigated the spread of the virus well, with random testing and capacity limits put into place all across campus. However, the decisions being made by the school during the pandemic appear to be a one-way street.

College students are often overlooked by administrators when it comes time to change the landscape around the school. At a time like this, it is not only important to keep students safe, but also to take their advice on how to make the college experience easier for them.

Sports have been able to get the rest of the American people through a very tough time during the summer and fall months; and ake our minds off the real world with an entertaining spectacle as such has been a huge relief to millions of people.

However, what I did do was reach out to an athlete to see how their experience during COVID may differ from a regular college student.

Jake Tyndale is a former high school friend and current Track & Field athlete at Wingate University in Wingate, North Carolina. I spoke to him about his thoughts on how smaller schools can be better at handling the ebb and flow of keeping their students safe on a daily basis.

Part of the luxury of attending a smaller school during the pandemic is the ability for in-person classes to start ramping up, and Tyndale, along with other students, was able to get back to a sense of normality in the classroom even when larger lectures still took place over Zoom.

He also is one of the lucky ones who was tested every Tuesday, but that jumped to three times during the week of a track meet. Jake was unlucky to have his roommate test positive, which led to both of them being quarantined.

When asked if he had to be tested after the conclusion of his 14-day quarantine period, the shocked look on his face soon transferred over to me.

“I thought so,” he said. “But they just told me I could go back to resuming normal activities.”

Although I am not a doctor, I certainly would not have recommended a school take this approach. When I asked what the school can do better, he gave the answer that every great student would.

“I would say sanitizing a lot of the stuff in the library,” he said.

I immediately followed up and wondered if it was the student’s responsibility to do.

“That’s what [the administration states],” he said. “But I also don’t see any wipes or anything to use.”

From what I gathered overall, though, it seems like Jake was fairly happy with the job Wingate had done with handling the pandemic, whether that be with capacity limits and mask-wearing.

After talking to Jake, I tried to get a differing perspective from my former high school track teammate and University of Tampa ROTC student, Hunter Kramer.

As Hunter wakes up every day in a state with arguably the loosest COVID-19 restrictions in the country, I thought he would be someone that could provide a bunch of insight on how a school handles the pandemic.

University of Tampa students were not required to supply a negative test before returning to campus for the fall semester. The school did require that the ROTC program space out the PT sessions across the week, so instead of the entire group meeting three times a week, they had hybrid sessions where half of the group would train every other day in the week in order to lower capacity, leading up to a Friday session where the entire group finally meets.

Hunter also provided very positive feedback when talking about the quarantine housing offered by the university, with a dorm room or an off-campus hotel to house those who had tested positive or came into contact with someone who had tested positive for the virus.

I asked about what the school can do better in terms of making him more comfortable.

“I don’t know, because personally, I think the school has done everything right,” he told me. “And we’ve been getting praise for it.”

Not a shocking answer from someone who has been able to live relatively freely in a state that relies mostly on individual responsibility to combat the pandemic.

“I don’t know, because personally, I think the school has done everything right…And we’ve been getting praise for it.”

University of Tampa ROTC student, Hunter Kramer

It’s always a weird situation when you’re approached with the different protocols that are put into place at a school other than the University of Pittsburgh. And with the numerous shifting of positions, I’ve heard that Thomas Soekinto, a junior here at Pitt, has called for a more open line of communication between students and board members.

“I think more transparency will be much appreciated, like how they decide on their positions [guarded or elevated],” he said. “I know it’s nice that they give us the emails with COVID updates and everything, but then to some people raw data doesn’t mean anything.”

This statement seems all the more relevant with the news that the University would be moving back to elevated risk as of 9 pm on March 31 because of the presence of the U.K. variant of the virus on campus.

And unlike many other students, Soekinto lives with his family nearby and is able to commute to campus without any hitches. However, he’s still a college student who would like to live a college experience without having to worry about his safety being a priority.

Regardless, I think many Pitt students share Thomas’ sentiments about the need for the University to be more open with its students. Perhaps if school administrators listened more actively to the experiences of their students, students would be more likely to believe that their college experience is being made safer and more comfortable.

Improved communication would also build bridges between students across the country. All of these benefits and more can be gained just by listening to students.