The beginning of autumn is a cozy time, filled with the scent of pumpkin spice and excitement in anticipation for the coming holidays. However, this year, as the leaves change from green to brown, many students are left feeling uncertain about the future of the semester, especially for those living on campus. The first fall since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic raises new questions about things like outdoor classes, student activities, flu season, mental health, and more.
Heading Back Indoors
As summer came, the warm weather gave many the opportunity to occupy their days with outdoor, pandemic-safe activities. Students at DePauw have embraced this new way of life, especially since the school’s COVID-19 policies have limited the ability to socialize indoors. Most days, you can spot students eating a meal in the plaza, putting up hammocks in Bowman, or playing a game of spikeball in Ubben. But as low temperatures have crept up on Greencastle rather quickly, many are left wondering what they can do to have fun but remain COVID-19 free.
Lauren Lillis, a junior and DePauw’s Student Government’s VP of Programming, expresses that having to organize events for students was already challenging at the beginning of the semester. Along with getting acclimated to her new position, Lillis also had to become familiar with new policies for programming events.
“You have to come up with different plans to make sure that everyone is safe and if you have vendors, you need to ensure their safety as well,” Lillis said.
Now, Lillis has to adapt to the implications of changing seasons and that will affect programming. She intends to continue having food truck vendors on campus.
“Even though the weather is going to be a little bit chilly, I think students will still be able to come out, wearing their warm attire, and get food,” Lillis said.
Lillis mentions that she sees a potential for indoor events that utilize available spaces as effectively as possible to ensure that students can gather safely. She also has been keeping virtual programming in mind so that her team can include on-campus and remote students. Recognizing students might be experiencing burn out from Zoom classes and other video conferences of that nature, Lillis is also focused on using social media and similar platforms for engaging and fatigue-friendly programming.
Good-Bye Tent Classes?
While the idea of classes in tents and other outside locations was foriegn to students just weeks ago, they have become a large part of daily life for many at DePauw. The change of the season, however, might mean the end for these new settings. Cold temperatures and uncomfortable weather conditions will make it difficult for these classes to continue in this format.
The solution to this problem will be up to individual professors, according to Dave Berque, Vice President of Academic Affairs at DePauw.
“Some faculty will seek indoor locations for their classes when the weather does not support outdoor instruction,” Berque said. “Other faculty members will transition to fully remote instruction during these times.”
This means that while DePauw is not officially instructing a shift in the way the outside classes are conducted, but students can expect a move either indoors or online.
COVID v. Flu Season
While autumn brings on a host of fun things, the flu isn’t one of them. On college campuses, the close proximity brought on by shared living spaces and partying can cause the flu to spread rapidly. This year, however, Influenza isn’t the only contagious sickness students need to worry about, as campus is still in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The impending flu season can be especially worrisome due to the fact that the flu and COVID-19 can have similar symptoms, explained DePauw Health Medical Director Dr. David Harsha. This can “stress our health system’s capacity” but DePauw Health plans to administer frequent tests for both illnesses.
Harsha’s team is working to prevent the spread of both the flu and COVID-19. However, Harsha comments on the importance of “controlling influenza so we can focus on reducing COVID-19’s impact on campus.”
There could be an upside to the combination of the flu season and the pandemic, though. With COVID-19 PPE and social distancing practices, influenza could potentially spread much less rapidly than it has in the past.
“If everyone follows the COVID-19 recommendations and gets their flu shot, we may see fewer cases of influenza compared to prior years,” said Harsha.
Fall Mental Health
The transition from summer to fall this year might be especially difficult on people, mentally and emotionally. A number of different factors, from COVID-19 to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). can put significant stress on students’ mental health.
As students are forced back indoors by cold weather, socialization might become a lot more difficult due to DePauw’s COVID-19 safety policies. DePauw Counseling Services’ Mental Health and Wellness Educator and Outreach Coordinator, Malorie McGee explains that this can take a toll on students.
“Lack of connection or socialization with others, at least in person, can have an intense effect on people,” she said, citing loss of motivation, fatigue, and feelings of hopelessness as common symptoms.
McGee mentions, however, that the extended period of time the world has spent dealing with the pandemic has made students more equipped for what is to come. “Because we have already been less social and have had to find different and unique ways of connecting, we actually already have a really great foundation that will also help us cope and manage [the new changes]” she said.
This time of year can also be especially trying for people, including DePauw students, who suffer from SAD. McGee describes SAD as “a type of depression that primarily occurs during a specific season.”
While those experiencing SAD can be affected in warmer months, it most commonly manifests in fall and winter. McGee explains that this condition can be difficult to diagnose because it has to be observed over the course of years and can affect people differently. “It obviously can affect a lot of our students as Indiana seasons can always be really unpredictable,” McGee said.
McGee emphasizes the importance of self care during this time, regardless of what students are going through. She notes that DePauw Counseling Services is providing different resources to students, both on campus and remote. McGee also expresses things like monitoring water intake, a steady sleep schedule, and prioritizing time away from work can also benefit students. “I firmly believe that every single person is doing the best that they can with what they’re given at this time,” she said, “I encourage everyone to have compassion and grace for yourself.”