VOICES: Please don't make "off campus" the new college normal

Category:  Opinions
Saturday, February 20th, 2021 at 3:42 PM

Living off campus should not become the new normal. Yes, COVID-19 has forced us into our home offices, into our childhood bedrooms turned Zoom classrooms, and into anywhere else we can call a “workspace.” But once we’re all vaccinated and case counts aren’t leading news broadcasts, it’s important that the college experience gets back to an in-person one. In other words, we can’t let a couple semesters of off-campus living snowball into something bigger.

As with everything, there are pros and cons to living off campus and the college experience that follows. A lot has been lost, but new things have certainly been created.

There are some obvious positives to living off campus, such as independence and money saved (both of which are certainly popular with our generation). Students aren’t under as many university rules when living off campus and can do as they like. Living that way is generally paired with online learning (minus commuters), and with everything being digital, there’s no worry of showing up to class sick or being snowed in. This year’s winter would be rather brutal if every class was in person. 

But the cons add up extensively. Classes can either be in person (limited right now at EU), online with programs such as Zoom, or asynchronous. This experience affects each student differently, based on how each of their minds function. For example, someone with ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) might have a harder time focusing and organizing themselves in an asynchronous class. According to CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), accountability is a big challenge in online learning, from attending classes to getting assistance from accessibility offices. This disorder can also make it easy to fall out of a routine or get bored in a Zoom class. Think of all the distractions around that would be in the home but not in the classroom, like family, multi-tasking, or eating. Any student can get bored in a class, especially if classes are back-to-back or over an hour long, but students with ADHD find it even more difficult.  

A lack of social connection, though, might be the biggest impact the pandemic has had on college students. You have the lack of facial expressions among classmates, missing the entirety of body language, and just the feeling of other people.

The CDC linked worsening mental health to the pandemic. “Symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder increased considerably in the United States during April–June of 2020, compared with the same period in 2019,” the CDC study read. There’s also an increase in substance abuse to deal with the stress, according to the CDC. 

The subjects in this test field ranged from ages 18-24, which is the primary age of college students. Sitting at home and away from people is not good. College is an escape for many people, or a reason to meet new people and experience new things. It keeps the mind busy and away from the stress. Yes, exams and assignments may add stress, but we’re still getting all that work in this digital environment. It’s stress on top of stress.

Living off-campus should definitely not be the new college experience. Students will miss out on everything that makes the college experience, such as get togethers, sporting events, or late-night study sessions.

The true college experience cannot be lived through a screen. A screen can never replace the feeling of being surrounded by people and by joy. Human connection will never be artificial; digital may come close, but nothing can compare to the real thing. 

The cons outweigh the pros in an overwhelming amount. The future was once bleak and dim, with no hope in sight, but the vaccine offers a glimpse at hope. The distribution is slow, but we hope it will eventually get around to us. Hopefully, as the vaccine rolls out and more testing is done, students will be able to return to campus and back to the real college experience.

According to the CDC, there have been a total of around 27 million positive cases of COVID-19 in the country, with 783,906 confirmed cases in Pennsylvania. More closely related to Edinboro University, there have been 16,830 confirmed cases in Erie County since the start of the pandemic.

Alexander Beatty is a staff writer for The Spectator. He can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

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