by Rebecca Makas and William Horne
It’s not easy leaving home for college. It’s even more difficult being sent back home for the foreseeable future.
These are difficult times for all of us, especially for young people navigating campus closures and social isolation during a time in their lives when they’re usually told to strike out, experience new things, meet new people, and be adventurous. Much of this is beyond our immediate control, but as professors at Villanova University, we put together this tip sheet to help students and educators navigate this new learning environment.
Give yourself time to process the change; you were asked to move, completely change your education experience, and isolate from many of your closest friends in the span of just a few days. Consider journaling about the transition, talking with friends, family members, and faculty.
On the academic end of things, keep in mind that some professors will handle this better than others. Note that this is not due to their incompetence or lack of care. Many are not fully sure of what you’re dealing with. Many are struggling themselves (having to teach online while also now homeschooling their children, caring for elderly parents, etc). Many are trying to learn new technology very quickly or do not have the internet speed needed for Zoom or other videoconferencing software. Some will be trying to maintain an air of normalcy and keep strictly to their schedule and deadlines. In this time, try to be generous with your professors, but do not be shy about advocating for yourself. People should know if you’re now in a caretaker position for your parents, if you’re in a new time zone that makes “real time” meetings at 3 am, if not being able to access library resources makes an assignment impossible, if you’re feeling stressed about the global pandemic and having trouble focusing, or if you’re feeling isolated or in an otherwise difficult situation.
In the first couple weeks, be prepared for confusion, technical failures, and changes of plans. Believe us, everyone wishes this could be handled “better,” or in a more organized way. If we’re all gentle with one another these first couple weeks, it will help get issues out of the way more quickly. Also, keep in mind that some questions may be uncertain for faculty or administrators. That said, to echo the above point, seek clarification if you are confused.
It may be daunting to figure out how to motivate yourself. After all, you’re not in your dorm, and you’re not physically in class. It may even feel like Zoom sessions or Blackboard postings aren’t “real” class. To avoid losing momentum and focus, try as much as possible to establish a new routine. These first few weeks will be challenging, but try your best to set up a desk or table space to do your work. Set some alarms on your phone to help you keep the same schedule every day. Based on your class schedule, format, and requirements, this may look different for each of you, but it’s important that you maintain a routine.
Continue to take advantage of office hours and other resources. It likely feels like you’ve lost a lot of resources, and you have! But keep in mind that professors are still available to you; don’t let the awkwardness of a phone call or one-on-one Zoom meeting keep you from talking about your work and success. As before, your professors want to do everything to help you succeed, particularly now that everything is more challenging!
Perhaps the most substantial change for most of you will be on the social side of things—missing time with your friends on campus. This absence is real and gets at a key element of the undergraduate experience—“become what you are not yet”—that’s worth acknowledging. Set aside time to check in with the friends you made this year. Share your experiences. Listen to theirs. Social distancing can feel isolating, but there are ways to connect and it is important that you do so.
We know many of you may be dealing with changing family dynamics under abnormally cramped conditions. This can lead to increased tension and added anxiety. You may want to talk openly with your family, friends, roommates, or whomever you find yourself socially distancing with about these struggles and to work through some basic ground rules. This will help everyone bring their best selves to common areas and hopefully cut down on friction.
On a lighter and happier note, whether it’s cutting out the walk across campus from your dorm to class or not having to put on pants, you probably have a good deal more flexibility in your schedule than you’re used to having. Consider diving further into something that interests you. This will allow you to get the most out of your current situation.
Rebecca Makas is an Assistant Teaching Professor at Villanova University. She received her Ph.D. in Religion from Emory University in 2018. Her research explores the intersection between mysticism and philosophy in medieval Islam. Rooted in her experiences of prison education, literacy, and reform work, she has recently begun a research project on the restricted access to books that incarcerated Muslims face. Dr. Makas has shared this work at the recent American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, and an article based on this research is forthcoming.
William Horne is an Arthur J. Ennis Postdoctoral Fellow at Villanova University who writes about the relationship of race to labor, freedom, and capitalism in post-Civil War Louisiana. His book manuscript, “The Birth of Mass Incarceration: Reconstructing the Carceral State in Civil War Era Louisiana” argues that white elites repurposed antebellum systems of plunder that had been applied broadly to poor and working-class folk to exclusively target African Americans. He holds a PhD in history from The George Washington University and is co-founder and Editor of The Activist History Review.