First 2 weeks online: Students talk about pandemic changes, online lessons


Illustrated by Catherine Choi

Written by Nithya Shenoy 1/18/22 11:10 PM

The fall 2021 semester began with online classes amid a spike in COVID-19 cases in the Houston area, attributed to a delta variant. As the semester progressed, restrictions were gradually lifted, allowing for an almost normal semester. Now, due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, classes are online in the first two weeks of term again. This change, along with management’s request for students to delay their return to campus, has prompted some students to change their plans at the start of the semester.

Gabriel Bolanos, a freshman at Wyss College with a room on campus, has been following the news about the sudden rise in COVID cases and predicted that Rice would be online after the winter break. Bolanos, who is from the Cyprus suburb of Houston, chose to stay home for the first two weeks.

“I wasn’t too surprised,” Bolanos said. “I thought in this case it was the right call… [Still,] It was very difficult to swallow it.”

Bolanos said his plans depend on whether the classes will be in-person or virtual.

“[Since I am in] Cyprus, commuting is going to be kind of difficult…it will be highly dependent on traffic,” he said. “So [classes] Personally, I would probably go to campus.”

Tess Rourke, a second-year student at Sid Richardson College, decided to stay at her home in Germany after learning that Rice would begin the remote term. Roark said she immediately changed her departure date from January 6 to January 21.

“At first, I was relieved,” Roark said. “Going back internationally is kind of an ordeal; I have to get a PCR test in 24 hours [of departure] back to the United States. Also, it is disturbing because [Rice is] Already experiencing a rise in [COVID-19] Case numbers with a limited campus population.”

Roark, who taught remotely in her freshman year, said the current situation sounds familiar.

“It feels like going to Rice was like studying abroad,” Roark said. “Now I feel like I’m in my natural environment.”

Roark said she wishes Rice could do more for students who have been away from most of their college experience. She said she didn’t think about clubs in her freshman year due to the time difference and since she initially thought it would only be one semester away.

“I wish there was more [of an effort] Rourke said. “I hope there is something specific for people who are not new but are on campus for the first time to learn how to get involved while on a personal level.”

Now that she’s home for the first two weeks of term, Rourke said she feels detached from campus.

“It’s good to spend more time with my family, [but] At the same time, I can’t make much use of that time,” Rourke said. “I’ll start class right when my family starts dinner. [Then,] With Zoom, it’s hard to start a conversation in sub-rooms. I prefer meeting people face to face and working face to face because it is less difficult.”

Bolanos said he feels detached from the campus, too. Half of his group of friends decided to stay home, while the other half chose to go back to campus.

“It’s kind of a strange feeling,” Bolanos said. They will say [in a group chat], “Let’s go eat outside on the quads,” and I’ll say, “I’m not here.” In many ways, it looks the same as in previous years [like in high school]. It can be very isolating.”

Keerthi Bhoda, a sophomore at Wiess College, returned to campus on January 9. Bhoda said the online lessons make it more difficult to stay in touch.

“The campus is almost empty and uncrowded,” Buda said. “We are not allowed to eat inside, so there are usually not many people in the commons. I think it is a lot like fall 2020 or early spring 2021.”

Andrew Graziano, Chief Justice and current Chief Justice of Sid Richardson College, returned to campus on January 9. Graziano said his plans have not changed after the announcement of remote teaching.

“I was expecting that, given that so many other schools were reacting similarly,” Graziano said. “I don’t have an opinion on it anymore. I used to be more curious about how the university was responding to COVID, but now I think it’s becoming a normal thing.”

Graziano said he is fortunate to be able to take a few of his classes in person and the online lessons are going well for him.

“There are pros and cons to online lessons, so I stay positive by getting to know the professionals,” Graziano said. “My professors work hard to provide access to online classes and I really appreciate it. Although these online classes are not the same in person [classes]Online classes have this dynamic of everyone being in the same boat, which is great because everyone is empathetic and engaged.”

Rourke also said she appreciates the efforts of her professors. She currently has one asynchronous class and said she appreciates the flexibility he has.

“I can pick a place that fits my schedule,” Roark said. “[The professors are] You do a really good job under the circumstances.”

Bhoda said switching to online classes meant she was able to spend more time in the classroom.

“Online lessons are good,” Buddha said. “With no other extracurricular activities at the moment, online classes have given me more flexibility in my schedule and allowed me to focus on school more.”

Bolanos said he was encouraged by the fact that Rice appears to be changing her attitude toward the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent announcement by the president and dean of the university declared that the university would shift its policies “to a position that recognizes that COVID-19 is endemic.

“I think their announcement of their shift in mindset in their email was very reassuring to me. At least to me it felt like they were pursuing something that is not impossible to do, which is to keep COVID completely away from Rice,” Bolanos said. “I greatly appreciate that they are very committed to protecting our students, especially compared to other colleges in the area.”


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