Home looks a little different this semester

Illustration by Christian Ayala

This fall’s major move-in weekends have passed and NAU students are finally able to return to the beautiful Flagstaff campus. That is not a reality for all, though, as many students are still in their hometowns across the country. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting many in different ways, but one crucial aspect is the debate over if students should return to universities. Students who choose to stay home for many reasons should not feel like they are missing out on a vast amount. 

Safety guideline requirements are mostly the same for students on and off campus. These requirements include mandatary daily checks, testing, wearing masks and socially distancing.  Guidelines keep students safe but also allow minimal contact between those on campus. 

The College Crisis Initiative by Davidson College is actively reporting  schools’ plans to help the nation understand institutional response to COVID-19. There are over 1,427 American colleges and universities that have declared a fully online or hybrid experience with only 73 schools meeting fully in-person, according to the College Crisis Initiative. The vast majority agree that it is up to the student to make their decisions with safety at the forefront. 

A benefit of staying home during this time is providing oneself with proper safety procedures. Some students were not able to comfortably and safely return to campus due to being considered high-risk. These students can feel more comfortable at home with less worry about getting sick. 

Many schools across America have been forced to shut down due to potenital outbreaks. The Washington Post reported that just days after reopening campuses, some colleges already have  over 500 positive COVID-19 cases. Hannah Knowles of The Washington Post wrote that in response to the outbreaks, students are committed to the “university’s ability to deliver a dramatically transformed on-campus experience.”

Parents also have concerns regarding their students’ returns to campus. Their angst rises from the debate of letting their students be independent while trying to ensure their children’s safety.

The New York Times heard from concerned parents and how they are dealing with letting their students go. One parent discussed her struggles of dropping off her college freshman, describing the experience as one disappointment after another. She said she was sad that her student is already missing out on her senior year and now will be missing her freshman year of college as well. 

The article then discussed ways parents can cope and alternatives for students that are not returning to campus. For students that are home, this is less of a concern because they can stay with their parents. The benefit of staying home allows for a less anxiety-filled semester with all the questions of the unknown. 

Another reason students are choosing to stay home is the financial burdens of returning to campus. NAU has been offering grants such as the one provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and other academic assistance, but staying home offers savings to students. Many people have been laid off due to the virus, and staying home is a viable option when many parents allow their children to stay at the family home for free.

Students staying home also connects families. Quarantine has led to creativity in how people spend time together. Families have reached out more to distant relatives, and Zoom birthday parties allow for everyone to feel connected. The idea of keeping communication open has been the ideal that has made families successful.

On the other hand, there are also negative aspects of students staying home. Many people lost their independence overnight and some had to return home to toxic families or relationships. Leo Sher of “QJM: The International Journal of Medicine” discussed the negative impacts of rising depression rates.

“Multiple lines of evidence indicate that the coronavirus disease pandemic has profound psychological and social effects,” Sher stated in QJM, “Studies indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic is associated with distress, anxiety, fear of contagion, depression and insomnia in the general population and among health care professionals.”

With negative thoughts and feelings of loneliness rising in those who are distanced, it means students need to connect now more than ever. 

There are many ways for students to feel connected, even if their friends are at the Flagstaff Mountain campus and they are still home. They could participate in picnics over video calls, have movie nights or even make collaborative playlists. Now is the time for students to get creative to stay connected to their friends.

There is no denying that many people’s lives changed drastically and things are different than what was originally planned. It is important that everyone can stay connected in safe ways, no matter where their home is. With all the challenges the virus has introduced to daily life, there are also bright sides. This can be an opportunity for students to save money, feel safe at home and reconnect with family and old friends. There is hope even in the darkest times. Home is wherever you make it, whether on the gorgeous NAU campus or elsewhere.