SOCIAL LIFE OR SOCIAL DISTANCE?

By Jillian Kirkham

With large pandemics come even larger responsibilities. COVID-19 has brought on quite a few unexpected challenges: wearing masks, regularly sanitizing hands and workspaces and perhaps the most important of all, social distancing. Can a campus built on a foundation of community and inclusivity adhere to this new normal, or will social lives be out the window for good? Professors and students alike are finding themselves in the same boat when it comes to social distancing. Extracurricular activities, class settings and sizes and whole departments of people have had to change how they operate to accommodate proper protocols. Still, COVID-19 has taken its toll as social activity on campus has all but disappeared, leaving in its wake the feeling of living in a ghost town. “Because of the pandemic I’ve had to shorten my classes and cut out in-person activities like cohort meetings—my favorite part of class,” Dr. T.C. Ham, associate professor of biblical studies, said. “I enjoy hearing from you guys.” As a professor who relies on hearing feedback from his students, Ham’s curriculum and the participation level of his classes have taken a substantial blow, as his classes typically require students to connect with each other and with himself. With a rising number of COVID-19 cases and out of concern for the wellbeing of students, several gatherings such as classes and group meetings have moved to an online format. All in all professors and other faculty members have continued to adapt for the benefit of themselves and their students while they continue to create purposeful and safe learning environments. Because of this, however, classrooms and meeting spaces are looking emptier and emptier. This raises questions about the spring 2021 semester and how Malone plans to proceed with its in-person classes, as well as concerns about whether students choose online out of necessity or convenience. Much like Ham, other professors have also found themselves struggling with the new social distance protocol implementations. Dr. Jeffery Beine, associate professor of education, has found himself struggling with his usual hour and 15 minute class periods getting shortened to a simple 60 minutes. “I’m just not used to this cramming all of my PowerPoints into shorter slides,” Beine said. “Whatever isn’t covered doesn’t go on the test.” Professors aren’t the only ones struggling, either. Many students involved with extracurricular groups like theater, music ensembles and sports teams have also noted the lack of social activity. Theater groups like the Chancel Players have had to severely cut where they travel in order to perform and retain a connection to the community, Chorale couldn’t go off campus to Camp Wakonda this year for their annual retreat and the sports teams have had to make several changes to their competition schedule. The Fall Shorts Festival is another example of an event that has had to change. Not one of the shows displayed characters any closer than six feet apart or included more than two to three people working together. It was a small blessing that one night of shows was able to be held outside so the actors got a brief reprieve from performing with masks. The two-night event was lighthearted and well enjoyed, however. Having to social distance has also severely changed the cafeteria, the center of social activity on campus, and how it functions. With fewer chairs, more spaces between tables and stricter guidelines, Malone is doing all that it can to ensure the safety of every staff member and student on campus. “I don’t like the changes, but I get why they’re necessary… it’s just weird having to use three tables instead of one,” Victoria Frauman, sophomore exercise science major, said. It’s safe to say that COVID-19 has made everyday activities like going to class, grabbing lunch or even finding a good study spot a little harder, but it has not stopped the students of Malone University from persevering and adapting to the new normal. With any luck, adhering to all of the rules put in place for students’ safety along with being diligent about how students conduct themselves, learning and living in community during future semesters will find its way back to some form of normal.

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