Last week, the University of Alberta took serious measures to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic by suspending all in-person classes, following the example of multiple universities across the world. As an over-caffeinated, over-stressed, and overwhelmed university student, I have spent my fair share of time wishing to leave behind my classes and go home over the past semester. However, after only a few days of online classes, I have to admit it: I miss campus.
I know that most people would be shocked to hear that a university student isn’t enjoying their time away from in-person classes. Students, especially nowadays, face a variety of challenges; whether it’s the seemingly never-ending amount of assignments, papers, and exams, continuously incurring debt to pay for school, or the heartless funding cuts of the provincial government. Together, all of these challenges make university an increasingly stressful and precarious place to be.
Many have seen the suspension of in-person classes as a break from the university environment. Instead of going to campus, students can now attend classes from bed, with professors using Google Meet or Zoom to conduct lectures. Of course, some classes have gone even more remote, with professors recording their lecture over PowerPoint slides and posting them on eClass afterwards. The result has been a general assumption that students will enjoy their time outside of the classroom, getting more time to themselves.
However, throughout the first week of online classes, I couldn’t help but miss everything that campus offers students. Too often, we forget that campus isn’t just the place that we go for classes — campus is a community. It gives us a sense of solidarity as students, and that significantly contributes to the value of post-secondary education.
After all, students don’t only improve our minds while at university; we improve ourselves, contributing to our identity and sense of self. This isn’t accomplished through lectures and PowerPoint slides, but instead through the people we meet, the friends we make, the clubs we join, and the goals we accomplish. The value of university isn’t exclusively found in a textbook, but instead in conjunction with campus communities and the people within them.
After a few semesters and the gruelling experience of finals, it’s easy to forget the value that community adds to our education. However, in moments where we are removed from campus, we realize how much the university community contributed to our student experiences. While programs like Zoom are the best alternative given the current conditions, classes conducted over webcam feel cold and inauthentic, lacking the substance that in-class courses provide. Many of my professors have even admitted that the process feels odd for them, as they’re used to lecturing in front of dozens of students whom they can actively engage with. Outside of classes is worse, with students experiencing the stress of their courses alone, rather than with their peers who understand what they’re going through.
Overall, the issues with online courses demonstrate the importance of community in post-secondary education, and it’s why I miss campus already. I miss grabbing a morning coffee in HUB mall before I go to class. I miss studying at Rutherford library between classes. I miss the friends that I only see when we sit together in seminar. I miss attending meetings for the campus clubs and groups that I’m a member of. I miss grabbing a drink at Dewey’s or RATT after handing in a big assignment.
It is these experiences, alongside a variety of others, that build solidarity amongst students and create a sense of belonging. While many view the suspension of in-person classes as a break from the stressful realities of post-secondary education, I only see how the suspension removes the community that allows us to face these challenges together, and I imagine that many other students will feel the same. The campus community, though stressful and daunting at times, really is integral to our lives as students.