The Reality of Being a Remote Student During COVID-19

Many SMU students decided to take their course load online this semester due to COVID-19 concerns. This is a new experience for everyone as, traditionally, SMU offers few online courses. This decision has had varying effects for each individual who chose to continue their college experience remotely, leaving some eager to return back to campus while others are hesitant and leaning more towards staying at home.

One sophomore is taking her classes from home in Alabama after considering the party scenes her fellow classmates may be participating in despite COVID-19 guidelines. Ruth Theodros said her main reason for staying home was the concern that other students wouldn’t choose to have fun in a safe way.

“I started thinking about the culture at SMU,” Theodros said. “It is very sorority heavy, and people like to go out.”

Theodros made her decision to stay home based off safety concerns but found other positives that came with being remote. In previous semesters, Theodros said she tends to be quiet and doesn’t like to talk in class, but this semester has been different.

“This semester over zoom, I’m more likely to answer the professor’s questions or even ask a question,” Theodros said. “I’m not physically there and seeing people’s mannerisms so it makes me feel a bit more comfortable.”

Other remote students have found online classes to be a more productive setting for them also. Julian Brown, a sophomore from Georgia, chose to stay home for the safety of his younger brother who is at greater risk due to an auto-immune disease. Brown believes he has benefitted academically through being online, and that he is doing better now than he would’ve done in person.

“If I was in person and all circumstances were the same, I think there would be more distractions,” Brown said. “I’d probably want to hang out with my friends. I’d be spending a lot more time driving to get food. I’ve definitely been able to cut down on that being at home.”

In addition to having less distractions, he said a benefit of being online was having all his class materials in one place: his computer. He has no need for his backpack, physical textbooks or any printed papers.

“Being virtual is just more accommodating,” Brown said. “I can be ready for class in less than five minutes. I don’t have to get out of bed to attend class. It is a lot more convenient for me.”

One student said she opted for the convenience and safety of classes at home after just four weeks spent on campus at the beginning of the semester. Olivia Witt is a member of the SMU track and field team and is graduating this May. She wanted to give being on-campus a shot to try and have some semblance of a normal college experience despite COVID-19. But she soon realized it was a big mistake for her personally.

“It was just a month that I was at school, and I don’t think I’d ever experienced anything like that,” Witt said. “I hadn’t ever been in a dark place like that so quickly. I knew I needed to go home or things might get bad.”

Witt said that she feels classes are going well, she is still able to train for track, and stay connected with friends since being home in Minnesota,. The biggest difference for her is the sense of freedom she feels at home. She is able to safely socialize and do outdoor activities that Minnesota has to offer that she couldn’t do on campus.

Another member of the SMU track and field team finds that her experience is different than other remote students. Sharoné Johnson is closer to SMU than the others as she is taking classes online at home in Dallas. However, Johnson said that the few miles between her and campus seem much greater because she lacks a connection to campus and finds remote classes more difficult and stressful.

“It is harder to stay fully engaged, especially when you’re just looking at a computer for hours at a time,” Johnson said. “It makes it difficult to have in-class engagements with classmates and the professor.”

Johnson said she struggles to receive help in her classes. Being remote, she doesn’t feel able to use the academic resources SMU has to offer that she otherwise would have used in person. Johnson intends to return to campus in the spring to take advantage of the in-person learning experience.

Johnson isn’t alone in feeling left out from the sense of community SMU provides. Theodros said the most difficult part for her being home is not being with her friends.

“I will see posts online and all my other friends on campus together and I miss that and I feel apart from that,” Theodros said. “There’s been events that are in person that I just don’t get to see at all that I wish I could. That is a big downside for me — not being able to engage with people.”

Theodros, along with Witt, are still debating their return to campus in the spring. Theodros said she is trying to weigh the pros and cons of what she has heard about being on campus.

She said some students on campus say it is quiet and boring, however she is nervous to stay home and have little social interaction for the entire year. She is still concerned with the culture at SMU and for her safety if she did return to campus despite wanting a connection with friends.

“I don’t know if I trust them, and you can’t tell anyone what to do,” Theodros said. “You can tell them to distance but they don’t have to listen to you.”

Brown also has missed the fun he and his friends would have on campus. He is ready to get back to campus to see his friends and finally get to step into his new campus job he was selected for that he had to put on hold.

“I was selected to be an SMU Student Ambassador,” Brown said. “Ideally, I would be working right now and building relationships around campus, but it will unfortunately have to wait until next semester.”