SMSU and its Students Continue to Adapt to COVID-19 Challenges

“It’s really draining and lonely. It’s hard to not feel useless when literally the only thing you can do is sit and watch from a distance.”

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Students and Staff are adjusting to social distance through working from home.

Lacey Barke, Editor In Chief

SMSU is comprised of desolate resident halls, unoccupied offices, and empty classrooms. It’s fairly easy to find parking spots now, and most dining services are completely closed until further notice- A once thriving campus is now comparable to a scene in post-apocalyptic movies.

Due to the spread of COVID-19, all SMSU services and classes have been moved online as everyone migrates indoors for what remains to be an undetermined amount of time. The last message received from our president was on March 29, where Dr. Jayasuriya encouraged students and faculty to still “finish the semester strong.”

“Our goal is to keep you healthy and safe while you continue to reach your education goals,” Jayasuriya said. “Practice social distancing, but at the same time, stay connected with your Mustang family in digital ways.”

For many students, however, it’s difficult to remain positive when there’s not an end in sight. Abruptly adjusting to a new lifestyle while trying to stay on top of classes are two parts of a much broader scope of problems that students are facing. The Washington Post cites that Course Hero, an education technology company, surveyed students about their financial needs last month. According to their findings, “Among the more than 14,000 [students] who responded, rent and food were nearly tied in first place.” For students with food and financial insecurities, the situation is increasingly dangerous.

Rent and food aren’t the only concerns, however- for SMSU student Brandon Sebs Medina, he’s having to navigate these changes in Chicago, one of the nation’s hotspots for COVID-19. “It’s been pretty surreal being in a hotspot,” he said. “A part of me wishes I was still in Marshall where people are basically involuntarily quarantined all the time because there’s nothing to do.”

Medina has the added anxiety brought on by affected family members. “It’s really hard to stay positive when two of my older siblings tested positive for COVID-19, and all my family in Italy has been in serious lockdown,” he said. “It’s really draining and lonely. It’s hard to not feel useless when literally the only thing you can do is sit and watch from a distance.”

Above: Stanger logs into his computer amid a barren campus. Courtesy of SMSU Today

Like Medina, many students are challenged with feelings of helplessness. One of the SMSU services finding a home online includes Counseling and Testing Services. To address emotional regulation, they have included a page with information from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention that details how students can manage emotions brought on by the spread of this disease.

A few of the tips include knowing your facts, meditate, track and unpack your thoughts, be prepared within reason, plan for what you can, and being good to your body. The CDC mentioned that how you feel affects everyone else, too. “Coping with stress makes you, the people you care about, and your community stronger.”

Exercise is recommended, but with all the recreational facilities closed, students must resort to at-home workouts. In addition to at-home working tips, SMSU’s Exercise Science department is offering a “COVID 19 Strength Fitness Class virtual via Zoom” on April 13th at 12:15 PM until 1 PM. Exercise science videos can be found through their Facebook page or through their YouTube account.

In addition to a few comedic updates on how her students are handling the online class transition, exercise science professor Dr. Kris Cleveland created a video that serves as a guide for how to create an at-home office without compromising productivity.

In the video, Dr. Cleveland included helpful tips for how to use regular items around your home to re-create the work office, such as using an ironing board as a standing desk. Another tip that Cleveland provided on the Facebook page to stay moving while in virtual meetings. “If you have a treadmill- slow walk on a zoom meeting,” she shared.

Moving your body helps to stay healthy and preoccupied, but some students simply want to move back home. International students are used to communicating with their families through a computer screen, but the added stress of COVID-19 makes living a world apart increasingly difficult.

“I do know that students are panicking,” said Esther Oluborode, student president of the International Student Organization. “So many of them want to go home. Then again, they are afraid of going home and not being able to come back here.”

“You come from a country where there isn’t Wi-Fi 24/7, it’s hard to get activities where you can stay connected with your family. My family is in Nigeria where there’s so many things going on besides the virus, so the virus is just making it worse right now- everything is a mess right now.”

SMSU’s international students can remain on campus during this time, and Oluborode stated that students do want to continue to attend school as Mustangs, but there’s concerns about Visas expiring and financial security. “The problem is that for those who already have expired visas, and then with the issue of money rising and falling, it puts everything off,” she said. “I don’t think anybody is willing to leave SMSU completely.

Even in the face of darkness, SMSU students are continuing to strive for positivity.

Oluborode offered her advice for dealing with the distancing. “The one thing I do, and I know that some of my friends do, is pray. Pray for your family; that’s the best place you can go.”

Even with being separated from his two siblings who’ve contracted the virus, Medina is thankful for the increased sense of global connection. He is holding onto the hope that this will result in creating a more unified world.

“The thing that’s been helping a lot is knowing that we are all in this together. Not just my family, not just my city, not just my country, but rather the entire world. It adds a lot of perspective, and hopefully, when this is all over, it will bring humanity a little closer together.