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‘All The Worst Parts Of College’: Students Reflect On A Year Of Online Classes And No Parties

Marco Lee, a senior and student government president at Lindenwood University, poses in front of his dorm on the St. Charles campus on Dec. 7, 2020.
Ryan Delaney
St. Louis Public Radio
Marco Lee, a senior and student government president at Lindenwood University, poses in front of his dorm on the St. Charles campus. Lee and other college students say they're managing their studies during a pandemic-altered school year, but the rest of college life is upended.

The fall semester on college campuses felt a bit like finals week, over and over. Students hunkered down, with little spontaneity or socializing to break up the monotony. And there’s more of the same to look forward to this spring.

Colleges and universities in the St. Louis area tried to adapt the college experience to make it resemble a normal school year during a pandemic, and to encourage students to enroll and write checks for room and board.

Lectures and exams shifted online, and learning still took place. But it was harder to re-create all of college life and the other big reasons students seek out a residential college experience. Late-night meetings, parties and clubs and activities were all curtailed.

As students wrapped up their fall semester — the first taste of college for the class of 2024 — and looked ahead to a spring that promises to be similar, St. Louis Public Radio asked students from colleges in the region to share their experiences.

(Students' comments are excerpts from interviews and have been edited for clarity.)

Cameron Lowery, freshman, Harris-Stowe State University

Cameron Lowery, a Harris-Stowe State University freshman in the fall of 2020.
Cameron Lowery
Cameron Lowery, a Harris-Stowe State University freshman.

I feel I haven't really gotten a complete taste of the college experience. I'm totally ready to socialize with other people. I feel I really struggle without the in-person experience. I've talked to so many students, and everyone is so exhausted and just ready to give up.

With all of the precautions and safety measures that the university is taking, it was really hard for me to branch out and find friends. I'm a really shy person, so this is me turning over a new leaf. And I still feel as though I'm having a really enjoyable time on campus, but I'm sure it's not the same as it was prior to the pandemic.

Helena Cooper, junior, St. Louis University

Helena Cooper on St. Louis University's campus in the fall of 2020, her junior year.
Helena Cooper
Helena Cooper on St. Louis University's campus.

It's all the worst parts of college. Learning is awesome, and I love my courses, but you don't have that social life that you come to college for. It was super weird, especially because I think something I love about SLU is how vibrant the campus is. And it just felt slow and quiet, but I did enjoy going to in-person classes. I think I wouldn't have liked online learning full time.

Sarah DiPietra, freshman, Washington University

Sarah DiPietra, a freshman at Washington University, on campus in the fall of 2020.
Sarah DiPietra
Sarah DiPietra, a freshman at Washington University.

In the first bunch of weeks, people were really nervous about breaking the rules, because the school's policy was very firm. So for the first bunch of weeks, there was just like fear of getting (caught) and socially ostracized a little bit. But then I think as school went on, and everybody kind of was just getting relaxed in the fact that we had very low cases, I guess, people started breaking the rules.

Aman Chishti, junior, University of Missouri-St. Louis

Aman Chishti, a University of Missouri-St. Louis junior, in a 2019 provided photo.
Aman Chishti
Aman Chishti, a University of Missouri-St. Louis junior.

Definitely after Thanksgiving break, my motivation plummeted. It's definitely tough, and I am a person who likes school. I would love to sit in a classroom for the rest of my life. But this is getting hard.

Even my free time doesn't feel the same, really, because my living space is my workspace. So it's really hard for even my mind to delineate the difference between the two anymore. I've noticed that I have a lot more trouble getting to bed and staying asleep now because I am prone to doing a bit of my work in bed. So I've been trying to fix that.

Brice Dean, sophomore, Harris-Stowe State University

Brice Dean, a sophomore at Harris-Stowe State University, seen here on campus in 2020.
Brice Dean
Brice Dean, a sophomore at Harris-Stowe State University.

I'm really just sick of being like this, I wish that we could party and go meet in large gatherings and do all the things that people talk about they did in their college days. For myself and my classmates, we lost the end of our freshman year, have completely lost our sophomore year, and we don't know what's gonna happen going forward. You see how those dreams are slipping away from colleges.

For students like myself, and I know a lot of other students that lost family members due to COVID and they were told: ‘Go away to college and take these classes remotely.’ This extreme workflow, you're not allowed to go outside of your house or your room, whether you're on campus or off campus. There is not much for us (to use) for stress relievers. So I was, and I am, worried about students’ mental placement. So I'm really glad to see students are still going to class. It's heartwarming to see how much they have prevailed and persevered against all the odds that the pandemic has caused.

Maria Nash, junior, St. Louis University

Maria Nash, in a provided photo, is a junior at St. Louis University during the 2020-2021 academic year.
Maria Nash
Maria Nash, a junior at St. Louis University.

I think a lot of my social life was just like running into people on campus and kind of catching up here and there, getting coffee. I obviously haven't been experiencing that as much and so I think that's something that I kind of took for granted in the past, of just how important that was for my social life.

Academically, I think it went pretty well. I will say I was not very optimistic at the beginning of the semester. And I was kind of pleasantly surprised with how well it was able to go.

I actually almost feel like I'm entering this spring semester with more tools under my belt. And since we had this kind of similar fall semester, I know what struggles I’ll face, and I have somewhat of an idea of what can help me have an even better spring semester.

Marco Lee, senior, Lindenwood University

Marco Lee, a senior at Lindenwood University poses for a portrait on the school's St. Charles campus on Dec. 7, 2020.
Ryan Delaney
St. Louis University
Marco Lee, a senior at Lindenwood University, on the school's St. Charles campus.

The teachers are more lenient than they would be if classes were in person. But it's been a challenge there too, just trying to juggle it all: school, being (student government) president, being a dad, being the support system for your family. So it's just, it's just a lot. I'm not performing to the best of my ability.

The not engaging sucks, you know, not being in the classroom, being the first one to raise your hand. And it takes away that classroom joy; I love a classroom. It's been hard, it's been real hard. I haven't been able to truly accomplish or even work toward my goal because so many people are just so on edge and thinking about the virus. So it's hard to have that type of culture here on campus when we’re not supposed to be close or talk and things like that.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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