The shut down begins

Jessica Guerrucci – Managing Editor

Lights are off, doors are locked and an otherwise bustling and busy campus, today, was empty. This has been the first day of the “campus shutdown.”

The way the coronavirus, now declared a pandemic, has swept the world has been tragic, yet fascinating – and the impact on universities is one I never could have imagined.

As I wandered the halls of the university today seeking out staff members’ reactions to classes moving to an online format, I heard more “no’s” than I have in my entire time reporting because nobody wants to say the wrong words.

However, all the “no’s” told me a variation of the same thing: they honestly cannot say with full confidence that they have a plan, or they know what “going online” will mean – or if it will even work.

When phones buzzed on late Tuesday night, email notifications rang, emergency alerts came through, things changed. It seemed too early.

Students and professors both seemed to have the idea in their heads that we were not coming back after spring break, but when they walked out on Tuesday, nobody was thinking they would not be coming back the next day.

Nor did the students living in resident halls know they would be packing up and moving home in less than 24 hours. I watched as students hauled out the contents of their room, unsure of how much to bring with them.

The university’s question and answer live stream held on Tuesday had a lot of “what if” questions and I cannot even say with confidence the president of the university knew he would be sending out the closure email only hours later.

It only took one student – one that a campus email said only had secondary contact and was asymptomatic – to shut down an entire university.

Of course, there are much larger reasons and they needed to take the virus seriously, but I questioned what would have to happen for them to finally make the call.

Now as we move online, it will be unlike anything we have seen before. Like one professor told me today, not everything “fits” online.

I watched today as art students on campus scrambled to gather their materials and finish their ceramics projects before the clay dries out. The arts are just one of the areas that may not “fit.”

I heard from professors they attended Blackboard 9 workshops to learn how to teach online, some saying this will be the first time that they have ever used it.

I do not expect these next three weeks to be easy for both students, faculty or administration. It is certainly going to both challenging and different. There will still be a lot of “I don’t know” when people are asked what is next.

Within this multifaceted situation, there is one thing that is uniform, and that is uncertainty. It should be expected, however. We are reacting to a virus we do not fully understand.


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