When Liberal Arts Goes Online, Who Stays Onboard? 

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Zoom University

Since last spring when a university email notified students that the DePauw community would be moving online, what it means to be a Tiger has felt like a moving target.

While historically the student experience at DePauw has been divided along social lines like Greek affiliation and race, the challenges presented by COVID-19 divide us physically. 

Our ability to live and learn together is being threatened, and it has made me reevaluate the value of DePauw. Many of the university’s strengths-the global nature, interactions with faculty, staff and other students, and the opportunity to be an involved student leader on campus-are all now unavoidable challenges.

All of this is happening as much-needed discussions about the Black Lives Matter Movement continuing across the nation and campus. I understand these are difficult and important decisions about the health and safety of the DePauw and Greencastle communities, and as the Editor of The DePauw I realize no one wants to deliver hard news.

Work hard, play hard

But, the reason I have come back to DePauw semester after semester, is ultimately, to be a student with other students: my peers, classmates, and friends.

We are a social university (and yes, in the past that has often meant partying together), but it also means working together, in class and across campus. 

By defaulting all 300 and 400 level courses to remote only, the university is telling juniors and seniors to stay home. 

The role of “Student Leaders”

The other option, to return to campus as a “student leader,” now feels like a confusing burden, that comes with the price tag of room and board and the looming threat of returning to just have to pack up and leave again because of an almost inevitable outbreak and unclear policies in the case of one. 

What is the point of being a student leader when it sounds like there won’t be a student body to lead? What is the point of being a student leader when we will have to do it largely from our rooms without the support from many of our upperclassmen peers?

We are an enthusiastic student body. I, like many other students, have been waiting to return to campus this fall ever since I left in spring. 

But many students were already stretched thin by DePauw’s dense academic and extracurricular schedules.

While I hope to return to campus to continue working as a first-year mentor, women’s center intern, and Editor of the paper, I do not look forward to the exhaustion and expectations of being a “student leader” again. Especially if I’m expected to do it isolated from my room. 

As we find new ways to live and learn as a community there are many challenges we are facing, here are a few of the immediate questions and concerns I still have before moving in this fall:

  • Communication from specific faculty about their plans for face-to-face availability, even if their class is marked as “remote.”
  • Will there be an emphasis on DePauw’s existing mental health commitment to all students, on and off campus, especially the upperclassmen who will be “student leaders” on campus?
  • The $500 stipend for technology should go to all students if a majority of their classes are remote, whether we return to live on campus or not.
  • What are exact numbers/spaces for housing and quarantine rooms?  The spread of the virus is all about direct interactions so these numbers matter.