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Back On Campus: University Students and COVID-19

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The purpose of the survey was to explore the sentiments of students in the Isla Vista community regarding their emotional well-being, mental health, and other general concerns within the experiences of COVID-19. Over the course of two weeks, the anonymous survey garnered responses from forty-two university students, ranging in backgrounds and experiences. 

Pandemic impact on Students 

College students are uniquely affected by the pandemic, carrying the burden of balancing heavy class loads, extracurriculars, financial burdens, etc., along with the devastating ramifications of the COVID-19 crisis. 

Among the survey responses provided by students, declining mental health was prominent. Isolation and loneliness brought upon by the pandemic were recurring sentiments expressed by many students. 

Communication barriers strained relationships, making it difficult and mentally taxing to maintain contact with loved ones and friends. Many students expressed feeling disheartened by the difficulties and obstacles associated with fostering new friendships in remote settings. 

“I don’t see anyone anymore, mostly for safety reasons…I rarely contact anyone through social media or messages. In a way, I’ve isolated myself. I’m not sure why,…I feel like there isn’t much to talk about except our current struggles, which stress me out even more.” 

On the other hand, some students expressed gratitude. They acknowledged that the time spent at home allowed them to strengthen their relationships with a select few loved ones and friends in close proximity. 

Community preparedness and COVID-19 response 

Housing struggles, financial strains, and unaccommodating professors were some of the challenges students mentioned as inadequate responses to the pandemic, on part of the UCSB and Isla Vista community. 

Many students pointed to the continual partying in Isla Vista for the rampant growth of COVID-19 cases in the county. Some noted Greek life as large violators of quarantine and pandemic restrictions. 

“…UCSB administration seems to have put off future planning during the early stages of the pandemic. Students did not know how to prepare and were often stuck with inadequate communication from university officials who gave the impression of only caring about continued tuition payments… At the very least, the university should have made sweeping changes to the grading policy instead of making them department-specific. Worrying about slipping grades with sick family members and constant societal issues is rather cruel.” 

Overwhelmingly, students expressed anger and frustration toward paying full tuition for a “lesser” college experience. A disdain for online learning was posited to the less engaging space that asynchronous courses created. 

Many students called for more resources and aid from the university to alleviate the struggles that have risen during the pandemic. The need for accessible mental health care was especially prominent. Similarly, a call for more financial resources was widely expressed, citing housing and job insecurity as leading factors of instability in students’ lives. 

Flexibility with time management and the safety of online learning were some of the benefits students associated with remote settings. Accommodating professors were greatly appreciated, although not all professors and courses were credited with a unilateral understanding and empathy of students’ struggles within the pandemic. 

Reintegrating back into the community 

Returning back to campus evoked numerous safety concerns amongst students. Uneasiness associated with large class settings was particularly distressing. The return to campus and Isla Vista was worrisome, because of the unregulated gatherings and parties students foresaw continuing. 

“I’d love to go back. It’s my goal. I just hope students and faculty alike will take the necessary steps to make it safe.”

Although a number of responses noted nervousness in returning to in person classes, many were tinged with hope and excitement. The availability of the vaccine for most of the students mitigated some of their fears and filled them with optimism and eagerness for the upcoming academic year. 

Final Thoughts 

This past year we faced many difficulties, losses, and uncertainties. But, within such experiences, human resilience has found ways to prevail. Students continue to hope for the best in the upcoming academic year, despite the challenging experiences they have endured. 

This blog post was written by Ani Ordubekyan, a Mental Health Advocate intern from the Acacia Isla Vista office. For her individual passion project, she created and distributed this survey regarding emotional well-being related to COVID-19 among the UCSB community and consolidated the responses into a post.

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