UWL students share fears about returning to campus for the first week of classes

Plants+sit+on+the+window+sill+in+Eagle+Hall.

Image obtained from Sarah Fleegal.

Plants sit on the window sill in Eagle Hall.

Sophie Byrne, General Assignment Reporter

The first day of the 2020-2021 fall semester at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse was Sept. 8. It is normal for the first week of class to bring some anxiety, nervousness, and stress for students. On top of being worried about their own physical health given COVID-19 health risks, students are worrying about the logistics of getting a college education in an online class, being able to go to the few in-person classes they have, roommate relations, and finances and nutrition in light of the pandemic. The Racquet Press spoke to three returning UWL students to discuss their fears.  

Anonymous  

This source chose to stay anonymous to avoid potential conflict with their roommates. Our source is a second-year biology major living off-campus, originally from the Milwaukee area. “I want to be back on campus because I feel like a learn a lot better in a classroom and commit to it [academics] a lot better,” they said. “I also feel like it’s set up in a pretty decent way [hybrid classes]. But I am afraid of getting shut down again.”  

Despite the current spike in cases on campus, they say that they feel confident in the social distancing techniques put in place for in-person classes and labs, with a few exceptions during face-to-face sessions. “I know the person to the side of me is the correct distance, but it’s also pretty noticeable that the people in front of or behind me are still only like two or three feet away.” 

Anonymous’s biggest fear about COVID-19 stems from living off-campus, and their lack of control over their roommates and neighbors. “Our upstairs neighbors don’t go to UWL, but I know they like to have a lot of people over sometimes, like, a lot, a lot. That kind of worries me because I know we [anonymous and roommates] usually only ever have close friends that we would probably already come into contact with over.”  They say that there is no support coming from their landlord either and that sometimes these upstairs neighbors even come and gather in the stairwell or the porch right outside her apartment door, making it unsafe.  

Anonymous said they have reason to be concerned, as they have to make a trip home to the Milwaukee area soon for medical reasons. “I’m mostly worried about getting it [COVID-19] and giving it to my family because I would feel terrible about that. My mom would have to be out of school for a while and she only gets a few sick days.”   

They also feel that there are certain close friends and even some roommates who are not being as cautious of COVID-19 as they would like. They still see a tendency of their roommates and peers to go out and go to parties. “If they’re going to go out and do it then I’m pretty much going to be exposed to the exact same things.” 

At the same time, they understand the urge as a college student to take risks in order to spend time with close friends. As a sophomore, they were sent away from La Crosse when the dorms shut down in March. “I haven’t seen them in almost half a year and I really just want to see my friends again.”   

Despite this, they assert that academics come first and they fear what will happen if classes go entirely online again due to an outbreak. “I know that hybrid education isn’t perfect right now, but if we get shut down it’s just going to get even worse. If you’re not doing it for you [following COVID-19 precautions], do it for other people.”   

Sarah Fleegal 

Fleegal is a second-year microbiology major on the pre-med track, and is originally from Berlin, Wisconsin. Fleegal is living on-campus, in Eagle Hall. “My biggest fear over the summer was probably that I was going to move in and have to move out right away. It was definitely the instability of housing. I’m still not sure where I’m going to be a week from now or two weeks from now. That’s the biggest issue.”   

Fleegal also points out the lack of communication by the school about on-campus housing refunds. “I’m worried that I won’t be able to get a refund or compensation for having to move off-campus suddenly,” said Fleegal. “My parents and I have already talked about it, and we all kind of agreed that it’s not really an option for me to go home...it’s definitely a fear that if I was exposed or if I tested positive I would have very limited options [in terms of places to safely quarantine].” 

She brings up another issue that many students are struggling with right now. “I was, and am still, very concerned about my academics as well. Especially how professors are adjusting to online or hybrid courses. I feel like for the student it’s not always clear when or where things are taking place, whether it’s online or in-person and synchronous or asynchronous. I’m scared I’m missing a lot. Like I’m not quite up to pace with everything.”   

In addition to these concerns, there are also problems Fleegal only noticed after move in. “Now that I’m here, I am very concerned about my nutrition, the meal plan. It feels a lot more rigid; it feels like I have way fewer choices, and I’ve already experienced issues getting access to healthy nutritious meals. I haven’t seen a lot of vegetables…they’ve been hard to come by.”   

UWL has come under fire recently for on-campus dining options, as quarantined students in Wentz hall protest the quality of meals delivered to them.  

Fleegal says that, as she sits on the executive board of UWL’s Students for Sustainability, she is also troubled by the amount of waste being generated on campus as a result of COVID-19 dining. “One thing that I didn’t necessarily think about before moving in was the waste, as well. The trash cans outside of Whitney and around Eagle and Coate are all just full to the brim with single-use containers, utensils, and cups and things,” she says. “Like, I didn’t consider that at all before but now I’m seeing it in front of me and it’s all too real and very saddening, as someone who is sustainably-minded.” 

Fleegal lives with close friends in Eagle, and doesn’t note any communication problems with roommates, but says that she is concerned about the rest of the student body. “I feel like it’s very split. About 40 percent of people living on campus seem to be social distancing when they can, taking precautions to keep themselves and others safe. I would say about 60 percent of people think they can bend the rules…that social distancing doesn’t apply to them. They’re more concerned with their stereotypical college experience than the reality of what is going on right now.” 

Anthony Rizzo 

Coming from Kenosha, Wisconsin Rizzo is a third-year student majoring in Biochemistry and living in Reuter Hall on campus. His biggest concern with returning to school was the risk of attending in-person class. Now that classes have begun, he’s found that he’s more concerned about the general student body than face-to-face classes. “I think they’re doing pretty good; splitting everything up with online and in-person classes.”  

Rizzo notes that both the dining hall and physically being on campus both cause him to worry about COVID-19 exposure. “Seeing the number of cases on campus going up everyday kind of makes me nervous, as well as seeing people not wearing masks and going out.”   

UWL’s main dining hall, the Whitney center, is also one of his concerns. “It’s just more interaction with people, and people don’t really stay six feet apart.” 

Rizzo also has concerns about the residence hall set up this semester and expressed alternative plans he felt would have been safer. “They could have had it (residence halls) at 100% capacity if there was only one person per room, or still do roommates and keep it at 50% capacity.”  

At the time that Rizzo was interviewed, news about Coate Hall being put under a shelter in place order had just been released. Rizzo said on the subject, “It’s kind of unfair to the people who actually were social distancing, who are now stuck in there.”  

He feels that the university could have better prepared for students to be on campus. “I think that they have a lot worse communication than I thought they would for a situation like this. I think they definitely could have done a lot more around campus.”   

Shortly after these interviews were conducted, UWL announced a “shelter-in-place” order for every residence hall, effective Sept. 13, at 5:00 pm, until Sept. 27. 

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