This week, I was tasked with writing an article about my experience with Gustavus’ COVID-19 response, not only as a senior graduating in December, but as an all-online student this semester. When I received the assignment, I initially questioned why it would be worth it to write on the topic, as I assumed nobody cared about my experience. So many of us are dealing with remarkably different circumstances than we had anticipated for this fall, so how can we have time to focus on the situations of others?
I spoke with a fellow writer about this concern and he assured me that other Gustavus students doing online class this semester would be comforted to know they are not alone in their experience, as it is a challenging and disheartening one. I didn’t really believe him when he said this, as I felt I couldn’t really relate to those other students because we are all so far apart. But then I realized this: the only thing separating me from other Gustavus students was my mindset and my behavior, not the distance.
While it is true that as I spoke with this friend about my article we were separated by more than 6000 miles, the bigger obstacle was the fact that I had put up a mental and emotional barrier between myself and the rest of the Gustavus community. In order to cope with the situation at hand, I had been placing myself in the mindset that my time at Gustavus had ended and that I needed to begin moving forward. However, this is a dangerous headspace to occupy and is one that doesn’t actually help me or anyone else be successful or happy. The more I mentally separate myself from my time at Gustavus, the less meaningful the work I am doing this semester becomes.
This danger is why I am writing specifically to my fellow online students. We need to avoid falling into the trap of separating ourselves from other Gusties and, instead, encourage each other to stay as connected as possible, regardless of our learning circumstances. We must work together and stand up for each other during this difficult time. In order to better accomplish this, I have some advice:
Don’t allow yourself to fall into the mindset that your work and contributions in class are purposeless. Instead, treat your professors and classmates with the same respect you would on campus. Just because they are only visible to you virtually does not make them any less a part of your learning experience. They are just as valuable to your education, so continue to reach out to classmates to collaborate on assignments, as you might have in person. It may seem that as an online student, you are alone in your learning experience. This is not the case. Even though we are away from campus, our work still impacts others. Your engagement in class creates an environment that affects your professors and fellow classmates.
Outside of class, continue to involve yourself in the groups you care about. The circumstances may be such that participating in your normal activities is unrealistic or even impossible; however, when you are able, it is important to continue your participation in organizations and groups that are important to you. Even if your involvement isn’t as rigorous as it was when you were on campus, participating in the amount that you’re comfortable with is valuable for our community.
Utilize the resources being made available to you. Each of us is operating under different and challenging circumstances during this time, but Gustavus is here as a resource to help meet our specific needs. Do your best to communicate with campus leaders about where you need more assistance and encourage others to do the same. It is so important to take care of yourself while trying to get through anything, let alone a pandemic and being separated from your normal life.
Best of luck to each and every one of you. I look forward to growing alongside all of you, from just a little bit further away. Stay safe and be well.