On March 10, 2020, then-Drew University President, MaryAnn Baenninger, announced to the Drew community that the university would transition to online instruction until April 3, due to COVID-19. That decision, however, was quickly revised and Drew’s campus has remained almost completely shut down until this past January. While the school reopened its residence halls for the Spring 2021 semester, not all students chose to return on campus.
Many Drewids have decided to continue their online learning from home this semester due to a variety of reasons – from not feeling comfortable with returning, to simply not wanting to pay the cost of on-campus housing. Despite Drew’s efforts to keep them included, many students are still experiencing a disconnect with the school community that is proving to be difficult to deal with.
A survey made last April by Active Minds, a non-profit that works to raise awareness of mental health in college campuses, found that 80% of students reported feeling loneliness or isolation and 63% said that they found it challenging to stay connected with others.
Drew University has launched many initiatives to address mental health amongst its students by advertising mental health awareness training, community support groups, virtual meditation sessions and much more. Nevertheless, some students are still reporting that they find it difficult to connect with other students, even if they are still living on Drew’s campus.
Last semester, many clubs were forced to shift all of their programs and events online in order to keep their members engaged, which helped some students stay connected. Besides Drew Today and Drew This Week, many clubs are using The Path in order to promote their events. Some clubs are also using Instagram as a way to stay engaged with the community.
Even so, these virtual events have proved quite difficult to plan out and often end up feeling incredibly scripted and awkward as event-goers sit in front of their computer cameras and try to take part.
Some commuter students already experienced a disconnect from the Drew community even before we transitioned to virtual instruction, but the online environment seems to have made the feeling worse.
“I don’t think I feel isolated or a part of the community,” said Sarah Hurley ‘21, a commuter student who has decided to do all online classes. “As a commuter I felt very disconnected from my peers because I didn’t even know where the commons was and couldn’t pick up on some of the jokes about living on campus. That being said, when we went virtual I actually felt much less disconnected because everyone was just a face on a screen and there was no distinction from me or the people who lived on campus. We all became virtual learners sitting somewhere with the internet and a webcam.”
If you or anyone you know is experiencing mental health challenges, please visit the Drew Counseling website (www.drew.edu/counseling) for more information.