Returning to academic life after a well-deserved winter break, this spring marks the fifth semester in which students are experiencing college with COVID-19 restrictions and subsequent anxiety.
In this period of time, students and faculty alike have flipped back and forth from remote learning to regular in-person classes with the added precautions of wearing masks and now, being triple vaccinated.
Finally, last fall, after nearly two years, we found ourselves able to reconnect with friends after what seemed like ages. Life seemed to return to some sort of normalcy.
One semester later, the start of the spring term felt different.
While we still have the privilege of being back on campus and being physically surrounded by our classmates, the precautionary first week of online learning has reminded us all of the full extent of COVID-19 fatigue.
Although wearing a mask serves as a daily reminder of the pandemic, having to isolate ourselves from our peers evokes an even larger challenge with lasting impacts on those trying to navigate our new reality.
Do I speak up? Do I respond? Do I turn my camera on?
With a lack of social interaction due primarily to an online existence, students are continuing to feel the mental side effects of COVID-19—overthinking and feeling anxious and unmotivated to do much of anything when you’re in your pajamas all day.
Even now, with more approved in-person experiences, these challenges still find themselves present in our day-to-day lives. There’s a heightened level of anxiety among students when it comes to being in the classroom, speaking to people and even just being in front of others.
The pandemic has cost many of us these vital and routine skills, leaving little time to relearn them before entering the workforce.
According to Yenny Anderson, Lehigh’s Vice Provost for Institutional Research and Strategic Analytics (OIRSA), students are increasingly filing leave of absence petitions, with many mentioning mental health concerns.
Of course, these concerns don’t just apply to college students. Last December, The New York Times published a story focused on Bethlehem’s very own Liberty High School and the similar struggles posed against their students while transitioning back to in-person classes.
In the article, teachers recount frequent fights erupting between students and a growing number of referrals to the school’s Student Assistance Program.
Almost two years into this pandemic, students of all ages feel they’re reaching a breaking point. Not to mention, students at Lehigh are being tasked by the university to bear the responsibility of keeping themselves safe from the virus more than in previous semesters.
Ten days before the start of the spring semester, the university sent a campus-wide email detailing spring 2022 COVID-19 arrival testing plans.
These plans suggested getting a COVID-19 test before arriving on campus. The arrival testing plans possessed no enforcement of accountability. We truly are relying on an honor system.
At the same time, we are also seeing lower COVID-19 case counts than previously expected for the return to campus.
As we continue fighting against this ongoing COVID-19 fatigue, it’s still important to recognize all of the progress that has been made since the pandemic first began.
The dining halls are once again open, our classes are back in person and we can be surrounded by peers who are experiencing the same feelings and challenges that many of us are battling.
It’s easy to feel burnt out during this time, but keep in mind we’re collectively burnt out together. You’re not alone. We’ve got this.