Editor’s note: To ensure social distancing, every interview conducted in this article was done using Discord, a platform used for text, image, video and audio communication between users, or through email. These interviews took place in April.
During these unprecedented times, students are turning to various outlets to ease their worries about the pandemic. Keeping up with school, social life and work can be difficult in the best of times. Once life shifted online things got complicated for some students and some have seen the silver lining in the situation. The University of Arkansas Division of Student Affairs has offered various virtual programs and services to help keep students engaged, connected and healthy during this unprecedented time.
Payton Tucker, a senior majoring in educational studies, says school has gotten tougher since moving online. Tucker is still living in Fayetteville. From 12 hours in the classroom and only 3 online, moving to entirely online has been quite the change.
“Since school has moved online, school has gotten harder and more difficult to keep up with,” he said. “It is more self-taught/self-guided with a lot more responsibility in coursework. A big part of college is the campus experience and that has been taken away.”
Tucker expresses his frustrations with everything shifting online. “Online classes are more convenient for a more personalized schedule, which can be nice at times,” he said. “Overall, the move to strictly online has been more negative than positive.”
Cameron Hopper, a graduate student studying Microelectronics-Photonics says that he is traveling a lot less for research and classes. “I haven’t had to fill up on gas in about a month, I think, and I’m still at a half tank of gas. In that sense, I’m saving a bit of money,” he said. “I did avoid leaving the state for spring break, though, so it wasn’t super great not being able to visit my mom back in Oklahoma.” Hopper has stayed in Fayetteville.
While some struggle with the switch to all online classes, Hopper says it hasn’t impacted him too badly. “Classes aren’t too bad. One of my classes has pre-recorded lectures now, and the other is just meeting using blackboard at the regular time,” he said. “Keeping up with them isn’t too bad since I can mostly do work for them whenever I feel like it.” He says he has been enjoying getting extra sleep as well.
Students are picking up new hobbies and expanding on old ones during this time. For Tucker, he has been playing more video games and streaming on Twitch, a live streaming platform. He has also picked up new hobbies like playing the piano more, drawing, home workouts, and finding a new language to learn. Hopper has also been gaming more and trying to cook more often at home.
The University of Arkansas has offered virtual opportunities for students to get involved. University Recreation hosted group fitness classes through Zoom Monday-Friday. Classes range from kickboxing and yoga to barre and Zumba. If you have a device that Zoom can run on, you are able to participate in these free classes. UREC also has a list of household items that can be used instead of dumbbells, yoga mats, and other workout equipment.
Trisha Blau, assistant director of the office of student activities, says that the opportunities put on by Student Activities have been successful.
“Attendance has varied from event to event,” she said. “Events where people have to either sign-up to participate or sign in to Zoom have had anywhere from 5-48 participants. While some of the events we have had links for people to click on and view at their own time have had over 200 views.” Blau says they are working on planning more opportunities for the summer. “Some events we are planning to program are Open Mic Nights, Bingo, more Trivia Nights, Contests, and spirit week.” Students can find upcoming events through Student Activities Facebook and Instagram pages, or through Newswire stories.
UREC hosted an online gaming tournament April 17th for the game League of Legends. Seven teams with five individuals on each team competed for victory. Kendall Clancy, a sophomore majoring in computer science, said that the tournament was a great way to interact with his friends and other students.
“I gathered three of my close friends and scouted another skilled player,” he said. “We performed really well up until we went against the U of A’s main League of Legends team, including Payton Tucker. We lost the first game but managed to win the loser bracket and face them again. We ended up winning the entire tournament.” Clancy says he is very thankful to UREC for making the tournament happen and hopes another will be held soon.
Pat Walker Health Center is now offering medical televisits, which offer some of the same benefits of an in-person appointment. Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is offering the equivalent for mental health appointments. Along with these appointment options, students, faculty and staff can also sign up for online wellness coaching. These certified wellness coaches can help identify strengths and help you achieve specific changes to improve your lifestyle behaviors.
CAPS has launched a new informal outreach program called “Virtual Coffee Hour” aimed at giving students the opportunity to chat virtually with a mental health clinician. Virtual Coffee Hour is held at 10 a.m. daily and provides students an outlet to ask questions, speak what’s on their mind and engage in topics including anxiety, fear, self-care and others. Students can use this service anonymously through Zoom; no webcam or real name is needed. The chat function can also be used to ask questions.
Staff, faculty and administrators at the University hope everyone remains strong during this time and looks out for one another. “Please be safe and remain vigilant in practicing preventive measures to reduce the spread of the virus,” said Chancellor Joe Steinmetz in a campus wide email. “We will get through this together.”