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Students react to UNH in-person fall semester announcement

Photo Courtesy of Aubrey Benoit

President of the University of New Hampshire (UNH), James Dean, sent an email to students and faculty announcing in-person instruction for the fall 2020 semester. Students are filled with mixed emotions. UNH, alongside 18 other institutions within the University System of New Hampshire (USNH) and the Community College System of New Hampshire (CCSNH) plan to transition away from the Zoom calls, online exams, and strict technological communication that make up remote learning with the health and safety of students, staff, faculty and community as their top priority.  

Students are eager to return to campus and experience the life they had as wildcats before being sent home in March and transitioning to remote learning. They are anxious to know what August holds, but appear excited to be back in Durham.  

A rising UNH sophomore and English major, Avery Vine, is planning on returning to campus. She realized that UNH students are being given an opportunity many other universities may not choose to give out in the fall semester. However, Vine does have some worries. “I’m worried about the restrictions,” Vine said. “Since most of it is unknown, I can’t help but wonder how life is going to change on campus, for better or for worse.” She is most curious to how dining halls will operate with so many students relying on their dining plans for food.  

“I’m sure everyone will be wearing masks around, but other than that I’m hoping for the same normal experience that we enjoyed this previous year,” Vine said. Vine is most hopeful that tailgating can continue as it is one of the most memorable traditions held at UNH before football games. “Since it is a mass of people all in very close quarters at this time, I can’t help but think it will be discouraged or maybe not even allowed. We’ll just have to see how everything develops over time,” Vine said. 

In his email, Dean said there will be “a robust coronavirus testing system…ample masks/face protection and sanitizer, [and] options and flexibility for education.” Classes will be offered in a blended format to ensure access for everyone, “students can choose to stay home, be on campus and go to class, or be on campus but only attend some classes in person” and that they will “provide appropriate accommodations to those employees who are at higher risk for the coronavirus.” 

Dan Joyce, a rising sophomore at UNH majoring in Mechanical Engineering, is wondering how social distancing will look by August. “Will we have to wear masks all the time and socially distance like we are now?” Joyce asked. Overall, Joyce loves the UNH community and said, “the setting feels like home.” If he could wish for anything to resume it would be the Dairy Bar and school sporting events like the hockey games. Joyce said, “I think it will be different and a little uncomfortable,” but nonetheless, he is excited to go back to the place that feels most like home.  

There are some students who are debating if they should stay home and not go back to campus for the semester. Jackie Weik, Communications major and rising sophomore at UNH, is undecided in her return. “I’d love to go back and see all my friends, but obviously things are going to be very different. In reality when you’re going to a big state school you’re essentially paying for an experience and if I’m not able to get as close to what I expected as possible then I’ll most likely be staying at home,” Weik said.  

Weik is enrolled in classes such as photography and exercise science that do not transfer well online. She doesn’t have access to the darkroom for her photos or a gym to complete her labs in. Weik also wants to be able to take advantage of all the other resources she pays for such as the Connors Writing Center and the Diamond Library.  

“Worst case scenario I think class size limitations will be put in place, most likely no tailgating, hockey games potentially played with no viewers and possibly no SCOPE concert, but I hope we get as close to normal as possible,” Weik said.  

Weik worries that people will be irresponsible, and the second wave of the coronavirus will end up hitting the community harder than the first. To ensure the best health for the community, Weik is curious to what the university will change in regard to class size, sporting events, dining halls and social gatherings.  

Currently, President Dean can only answer so many questions with the coronavirus state health-regulations changing so often in New Hampshire. For an example, Governor Christopher T. Sununu of New Hampshire announced just last Friday that the stay-at-home order will be extended until May 31. “The people of New Hampshire have taken this epidemic incredibly seriously,” said Governor Sununu. “We have all played a small part in flattening the curve and slowing the spread of COVID-19. We all know you are healthier at home, and that continues to be true, but we are also taking steps to reopen our economy in a smart, step-by-step approach that is supported by facts, science and data,” said Sununu. 

Another rising sophomore and English major, Amanda Moore, is decidedly returning to campus this fall. “I think returning to in-person classes in the fall will be a really optimistic time. Although there will be changes, I think students and faculty will be excited to come back together.” However, many of her worries lay with the thought of the virus resurfacing because UNH will become a densely populated area. Moore is also anxious about how class structure will resume with so many restrictions dependent on social distancing.  

“It is very important to me to be attending college in person. I am obviously attending university to learn and earn a degree, but the college experience as a whole is something that I cherish. College is supposed to be some of the best years of your life, and I would hate not to be able to experience that. I also think I learn a lot better when I am being instructed face to face and have opportunities to collaborate with peers on assignments,” Moore said. 

Moore stressed the importance of learning from in-person instruction. Moore has found a lot of room for error with internet problems and site errors, which she has discovered not only does it disrupt class time, but it also can cause stress for due dates. Also, it’s not only the technological part that stresses Moore. “I find that there are a lot more distractions when learning online and it has taken a severe toll on my motivation,” Moore said.  

Todd Leach, Chancellor of USNH said, “The vibrance, creativity, talent, and impact of our students, faculty, and employees who inspire our mission to the State of New Hampshire are missed, and we are working diligently to restore safe frameworks that will enable the return of our communities and their impact on our local economies.”  

Despite the reopening of UNH’s campus, the university is confident that it can continue to operate remotely in the future if they need to. Susan Huard, Ph.D. and interim Chancellor of CCSNH said, “This Spring has shown us how adeptly our faculty, staff and students can adjust to changing circumstances. Higher education supports strong communities and our state’s economy in so many ways through fulfillment of our public mission, and we will continue providing the opportunities that our residents rely on to sustain a high quality of life in the Granite State.”  

A longing to return to UNH campus, worries of what the future will look like and a combination of questions about social regulations all entertain the heads of UNH students with their ability to now return for the fall 2020 semester.  

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