PEMBROKE — Students at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke continue to adjust to a new reality, one month after classes began in a fall semester made unique by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many of the classes that began on Aug. 5 are either a hybrid mix of in-person and online instruction or strictly online.
Nearly every student interviewed recently by The Robesonian said the biggest change in their daily lives caused by virus-related protocols is the adjustment to online classes.
“A lot of classes are online now, so you have to have Webex (and) you cannot come in person,” said Marisela Jimenez, a junior elementary education major from Raeford. “I prefer in-person instruction. Two of my classes, you can choose to come (in person) or you can do Webex online. I prefer to come to class.”
“I think the biggest effect is, those students who are hands-on, it’s affecting them,” said Darius Williams, a graduate student from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, who is studying exercise physiology/physical education. “Because they’re having so much they have to deal with doing four, five, six classes online, and without that hands-on learning, that face-to-face, that’s more mentally challenging, so there’s more of a sense of a ‘I can’t do it’ type of feeling. Even some professors are having a hard time adjusting to the virtual learning aspect of it.”
Whether or not online courses have been as effective so far as previous in-person education depends on the student asked.
“Yeah, I’m learning, but I would prefer other classes to be, everything to be in-person,” Jimenez said. “I think the professors have worked well with us.”
“I think my work ethic has kind of improved just a bit,” said Myles Arnold, a junior musical theater major from Concord. “I can just worry about my studies. I’m not worried about running from class here or there.”
Campus protocols include no meetings of more than 10 people indoors or 25 people outdoors; something Chancellor Robin G. Cummings said Thursday in a letter to the campus community would continue even as the state moves into Phase 2.5 of economic and social reopening. On Aug. 20, the university mandated the wearing of face coverings indoors and outside, where social distancing is not possible, after previously recommending them.
The protocols appear to be working. There were 57 active cases among students as of 5 p.m. Friday, down from 93 on Monday. A total of 189 students have tested positive since they returned to campus. Four faculty members and six subcontractors also have active cases.
Students say most of their peers are following virus guidelines and protocols.
“Most of the time everyone that I’ve seen around, they’ve followed protocol,” Arnold said. “The only times I’ve seen people not wear their masks is outside, and you know the enclosed spaces are a little more dangerous, but I think a lot of people have been pretty good at it, and they’ll be called out for not wearing their masks or washing or anything.”
“They’re rewarding us for following rules … they’re handing out gift cards to people wearing masks and stuff,” said Abigail Parnell, a freshman art major from St. Pauls. “I don’t personally know anybody that’s broken protocol, other than bringing people to their room.”
Even with cases still in the dozens on campus, every student interviewed by The Robesonian said they feel safe at the school, though that feeling comes with concerns for some.
“Yes (I feel safe), but I’m also kind of nervous, only because of how N.C. State and Chapel Hill, they’ve gotten a lot more cases,” Parnell said. “I’m just nervous that we’ll have to go (fully) online or stay in our rooms all the time, and I’m just hoping that won’t happen.”
“From time to time I see the group of gentlemen in the hazmat suits, and I do shudder a little, I’m not going to lie there,” Arnold said. “But at the time being, I do (feel safe), but that’s fragile and that could change any time.”
As for how the administration has handled the COVID-19 situation, most said the school has done well, while pointing out the difficulty of the decisions being made.
“I believe that the administration is doing the best to their ability as possible to handle the situation, no matter what comes,” said Lane Baldwin, a junior sport administration major from Clayton. “Even if that means we have to go completely online.”
“Half the students think they shouldn’t be here. Half the students think they should be here,” Williams said. “So it’s put the administration in a lose-lose situation. You’re going to please half; you’re not going to please the other half.
“I think the real test is going to be when flu season starts, and how they deal with separating the two and which is which … I think that’s going to be a real test for management.”
Three of the students interviewed by The Robesonian said they personally knew someone on campus with a confirmed case of COVID-19, either during the summer or since classes resumed.