The Shippensburg University community continues to adapt its academic plans and social traditions almost a year into the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Students had a form of an in-person campus experience in the fall and hoped for an expanded experience in the spring. But over winter break and into the online portion of the spring semester, students felt disconnected and found themselves left in the dark until the last possible moment on key information related to the spring semester student experience.
The fall semester was not entirely what students had hoped. While the university held more in-person activities than other schools in the state system, it did not meet advertised expectations. This semester, a lot of our classes are online and asynchronous. Due to this, some were unable to personally justify spending $3,000+ to sit in a residence hall and log on to 100% online classes. After a fall semester with some in-person programming, we had the hope that there could be more in the spring, or at least a timeline and explanation of why not.
Student organizations are trying to maintain their piece of the “Ship experience” by continuing programming, but it is increasingly difficult to plan when guiding health and program regulations are not available. Some groups, like Greek Life chapters who have national parent organizations that oversee activities faced questioning and reprimands for not scheduling plans. But how can students make plans and schedule events when rules are to be determined?
It can be difficult to recruit and maintain membership of student-run campus organizations in a non-pandemic year. After all, the student-leaders are balancing academics, extracurriculars and part-time jobs. The changing regulations and lack of communication make it even more difficult for students to plan.
Understandably, the university had to wait on some details due to coronavirus case spikes and new guidance from state and health officials. Officials take their jobs seriously and want to provide the best experiences for students. However, officials could have communicated more about the process with campus community members.
Students received little communication over winter break about details for the spring semester. University officials said they were still in the process of finalizing plans but the communication students received felt unclear. Planning for the spring semester felt like an afterthought — as if the university put all of its metaphorical eggs into the basket that was the fall 2020 semester.
Seniors especially find the lack of university official communication casting a dark cloud over their final semester. Transfer students who joined the campus community after attending community college to save money lost a lot of the campus experience. This invaluable student experience is what sets Shippensburg apart from other schools. Our lost experiences are arguably a contributing factor to retention numbers, as our inboxes fill with emails from advisers and student retention representatives urging underclassmen to hold on and reach out for help
Student organization leaders finally received information via Student Government Association (SGA) Vice President of Student Groups Riley Brown on Feb. 15. Information was originally scheduled to be released on Feb. 2. He cited the administration asking to hold the information until “a few last-minute things are finalized.”
Brown, a student leader, demonstrated clear communication. He began contacting students about updates Jan. 26 and sent a follow-up email when the timeline changed. While Brown could not offer specific information, he reassured students that we were not forgotten.
We ask that officials let us know that our problems and requests are not forgotten — that our voices are heard. Please include us in the planning process by offering opportunities for student feedback to all members of the student body — not just those who joined committees. Officials could hold public town halls or conversations with campus community members to showcase the university’s options. Officials can communicate with campus media to help messages reach all campus community members.
Even if it is an answer we may not like, it would be better than waiting for something that may never come.
The excuse of “this is new to us” can only be used so many times. As we mark one year since the beginning of the pandemic, there needs to be a recommitment to clear and consistent communication with students.