Let others cope with uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 on their own terms

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"As far as I can tell, students seem to be taking two main approaches to the school’s announcement of its plans for dealing with COVID-19."

By Abigail Hadfield, Deputy Copy Editor

On Tuesday, I followed along on my phone as I flew back to Boston and watched school after school announce their plans to address the COVID-19 outbreak. My boyfriend received the notification that his school, Suffolk University, would be moving all courses online and closing residence halls, requiring all students to go home. He will spend his last semester of college learning online.

Later that night, as I suspected would happen, Emerson announced they would be moving all classes online, although the campus and dorms would remain open for students to stay if they desired.

I still have the fall 2020 semester left as a full-time student, so the news didn’t initially upset me as much as my peers who are graduating in May. Then, the more I thought about it, I realized how distressed I felt about this change. It meant that I might not see many of my friends for months, until the fall semester started up again. It meant I wouldn’t get to have class in-person ever again with one of my favorite professors, and it meant that there was a chance that I wouldn’t get to see the student show that my best friend spent weeks stage managing and preparing.

I understand why Emerson made this decision, and I personally think they made the right one. But on social media and around campus, I’ve heard students reacting in all kinds of ways, and these reactions are gradually becoming very heated over time as students become even more stressed and concerned after reassessing their situations.

As far as I can tell, students seem to be taking two main approaches to the school’s announcement of its plans for dealing with COVID-19. One response seems to be a sort of “no classes = party time” approach, and the other response is a combination of anger and sadness in which students feel they’ve been robbed of their time at Emerson and their full educational experience. Some of the latter are mad at Emerson and believe the college’s plan was poorly executed or unnecessary, and some believe the school did what it had to do but still aren’t happy about it.

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Students in varying departments are also reacting differently depending on their coursework. At first, I didn’t really think much about the fact that we were moving classes online, because as a creative writing major, all of my courses can be moved somewhat easily to an online model. I’m taking lecture and discussion-based classes that can be replicated with video calls and Canvas discussion threads. But for my friend majoring in performing arts, moving online seems nearly impossible. Her classes involve acting and being in a shared space to perform and critique. Similarly, journalism majors concentrating in broadcast production have no clue how classes will function without access to equipment and production spaces.

I think that people’s reactions largely stem from a central place of uncertainty, because we are living in an unstable time. We don’t know how long the virus will continue to spread, or where, and we don’t know whether these measures are an overreaction or a lifesaver. Specifically at Emerson, there are many details to process moving forward that students don’t know—will student employees still have a job? Are we getting a tuition refund? What happens if students are unable to travel home this summer?

All this uncertainty can spark fear, anger, sadness, or even a comedic response from those who just want to make light of the news to process it. But we’re all in this situation together, and we all deserve the time and space to deal with this change personally.

While everyone is entitled to feel how they feel about the closure, and we should allow everyone to process this in their own way, your own reaction should not invalidate someone else’s feelings. Don’t make light of this to someone who has every right to be upset, but don’t get mad at someone for not being distressed. People have different ways of dealing with upsetting information, and for some students, this information might not even be upsetting in the first place.

Tensions are rising as students demand information from the school and wait to hear what will happen, and while the waiting game is fun for no one, it would be incredibly counterproductive to shame others for their own reaction to this news. Try to put yourself in your peers’ shoes before attacking them on social media or in-person for how they react. Someone making jokes might be doing so because they need to improve their mood with humor. Someone who is expressing their anger or sadness doesn’t need to be told that the college was justified, they just need to be allowed to mourn their time at this school.

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We can remember that these measures are being put in place for our safety, and that ultimately we need to look out for all members of our community, but we can also be upset with the situation even when we know it may be for the best.