Adjusting Amidst A Pandemic: How Students and Staff are Managing COVID-19 on Campus

“The Monday [March 16 2020] after President Ward announced that we were all to be sent home on Wednesday [March 18 2020], we all walked into class feeling pretty lethargic,” Morgan Notch (‘21) said. “I’ll never forget what Professor [of Communication Studies] Derek Sweet said to me that morning: ‘We may never know if we overreacted, but we will definitely know if we under-reacted.’ I think about that so often ever since this started.”

It’s been six months since most students, staff, and members of faculty were asked to leave campus due to the Covid-19 pandemic. And, as the fall semester starts, most Luther students and faculty are returning to school routines in a unique way — one defined by facial coverings and social distancing. Luther has been able to keep students on campus, and sophomore Hannah Clink (’23) shared her thoughts on the matter.

“I’m excited to be back on campus, and glad to see my friends and have in person classes,” Clink said. “I think Luther is doing everything they can to maintain safe practices. It’s challenging in some ways. The caf [cafeteria] is what I find the most frustrating in terms of distancing, but other than that, I think students are doing a good job at wearing their masks.”

Even first-year students, who have to adjust to college life and Luther’s COVID-19 protocol simultaneously, found this process positive.

“So far [the transition to college] has been really good,” Clare Dvoracek (’24) said. “Especially this year, everyone is really taking steps to be with us all the way to help us with the transition, which is really nice.”

In terms of the classroom, many modifications have been put in place to adjust to the pandemic. The structure of the semester is different, with two seven-week quarters throughout October through January. The classrooms are smaller, professors offer Zoom recordings of class for those who are absent; office hours are on Zoom instead of in-person, and assignments are all submitted through Katie rather than on paper. Syllabi and schedules are also modified depending on each faculty member’s methods. Professor of Anthropology Lori Stanley (‘80), who is teaching a Paideia section online, explained how Luther faculty members and staff were preparing throughout the summer.

“For several weeks at a time, we [faculty and staff] would meet on a regular basis to talk about how to set up our classes for fall in a way that, if we did need to go online, would make that much easier and create a less stressful situation,” Stanley said. “As part of that, it wasn’t just about transitioning to online learning. We spent a lot of time just talking through and coming to understand a lot of best teaching practices. I think that meant many, many Luther faculty members who participated are going into this academic year with some new ideas about how to be better teachers.”

At this time, students are not allowed access to other residence halls and have to limit the number of people in dorm rooms, which is what is referred to as Phase One. Phase Two would allow students into other residence halls that they don’t reside in. Phase Three would allow students to have overnight guests and off campus visitors in the residence halls. The final phase, Phase Four, would be the return to the original guest/visitor policy.

“It’s easy to feel alone and lonely,” Notch said. “I miss people’s smiles and faces. It’s hard to balance between being scared and trying to be alive, trying to say what is the right amount of fear, what is the difference between being careful versus being overboard about it.”

In spite of this uncertainty, positivity can still be found. Professor David Mitchell explained his positive mentality that helps him to cope with the pandemic.

“I take life as it comes. I don’t dwell on the past. I don’t dwell on things that I don’t have control over,” said Professor Mitchell. “In terms of the pandemic existing in Decorah and at Luther College, I accepted that as fact. I just [ask] how I can best handle the situation that’s at hand and try to stay energetic and positive throughout it.”

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