Published on April 7, 2020

COVID-19 costing college students valuable campus experience

By Janice Edwards / The Bulletin

All of us are living our lives in a new “normal” because we are trying to do our part to contain the coronavirus. We’re keeping children out of school, working from home, washing our hands a million times a day, forgoing public events, stocking up on food and medicines.

A brave new world is forming.

Being one of the “at-risk” people to the coronavirus, I have been doing my part by not going out very much and cooking more home meals. But I miss my social contacts more than anything – especially eating out with a group of friends, “the Buzzards,” every Friday night.

I feel for the parents who must find alternate daycare, and small businesses working hard just to survive. But I think I feel the worst for the away-from-home college students who have been told to move out, store their things and not return to the campus until further notice. Their education can continue online.

You can learn a lot online, but living away from home on campus is an education you can’t get through the Internet.

Let me explain what I mean by going back to my own college days. There were no computers, no cell phones and no digital cameras back then. I didn’t have a car. Living in the dorm was my first experience living away from home, and it taught me many lessons.

• It taught me self-reliance and planning. I had to set my own class schedule and then make sure I got up in time to get dressed, eat breakfast and walk to class. I was never late. I washed my own clothes.
• It taught me tolerance and understanding of other religions. Between me and my suite-mates, there was a Catholic, a Jew, a Baptist, a Seventh Day Adventist, a Mormon and a Christian Science Monitor student. I ate lox and bagels and learned what kosher means. I saw my first full-immersion Baptism. I sang a duet on K-Sam radio with my friend at Christmas time. I experienced another friend talking in tongues. We learned from each other because we had a chance to see different religions.

• It taught me patience. I still spoke to my roommate who played the same record, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” all night while studying for finals. I just about memorized the words that night. If the test would have been on the song, she would have aced it.

• It taught me compassion and perseverance. When I learned I had to have two photojournalism classes to get my degree, I signed up for the first session. I found out that we all had to have a heavy Yoshika “D” box camera, and we would be processing our own black and white film and prints in the dark room.

I ran outside, sat down and cried. I doubted my own abilities. A student in the class sat down beside me and asked what was wrong. He said he knew I could do it, and when I needed to process and print the first roll of film, he would show me what to do – and he did. I aced both classes.

• It taught me that nothing and no one stays the same. People you thought you knew sometimes turned out to be someone you didn’t know all that well after all.

I had kept up with a high school friend after he went to college in Arkansas and I went to Sam Houston State. He chose this time to come out. He wrote me a letter explaining this. I could tell he was in pain, and a professor let me use his phone to call my friend. (You couldn’t call long-distance from the dorms.) He thanked me for my call and said it made him feel better.

That experience taught me that writing provides an outlet, a catharsis, a tribute.

Digital learning cannot provide such personal interactions. It takes us farther away from people and experiences we need to make us better and more rounded human beings. But, because of the coronavirus, that’s what college students are left with - for now.

(Write Jan in care of The Bulletin. Email: john.bulletin@gmail.com. Snail mail: The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton TX, 77516.)