Jack Poskus

Photo by Jack Poskus

How Do NEIU Students Feel About Returning to Campus?

August 26, 2021

Perhaps the most widely discussed topic in the last year and a half has been about the feasibility of face-to-face communication, specifically within educational institutions. 

During the Spring 2020 semester, Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) students were tasked with a tall order as a means of mitigation against COVID-19. Whether it was seniors on the doorstep of graduation or freshmen embarking on a newfound academic journey, NEIU students at large shared a similar fate: having to attend their beloved university from the comfort (or discomfort) of their own homes for the unforeseeable future.

Here at NEIU, and similarly at neighboring public and private universities, the last year and a half has been anything but a breeze. Students, faculty and the many others who contribute to the university’s functionality have endured what feels like an eternity’s worth of hardship. 

Although NEIU was able to seamlessly transition to virtual instruction, with students and professors alike having had to proceed with education remotely, not being able to revisit NEIU’s campus in over a year has seemed to weakened student morale. A distracting work environment, a desire for social interaction and many other impeding factors have contributed to these incredibly taxing semesters since the start of COVID-19.

Earlier this year, however, as many NEIU students and faculty members were growing impatient with the accumulating pandemic-riddled semesters, on March 11, NEIU’s President Gloria J. Gibson announced that in-person classroom instruction would recommence for the Fall 2021 semester. Although updates have been made to this statement following its release (e.g. mandating proof of vaccination when on campus), this news meant a monumental change to the university’s future going forward nonetheless, and NEIU students could not be more elated about returning to campus.

Senior and Communication, Media and Theatre major Diamante Hare was over the moon when he learned that in-person instruction would resume again in the Fall. “To be quite honest, I am very thrilled to be back on campus with all my friends and enjoying my last year at NEIU,” said Hare. “I would love to just be back on campus where the atmosphere is just so exciting.”

Although Hare realizes how much returning to campus and face-to-face instruction means to him and his friends, seeing that it is his final year at NEIU, he recognizes the necessary precautions that he and his peers will need to take, as well.

When asked about how to get through the Fall 2021 semester safe and sound as COVID-19 continues to linger, Hare said, “It is very imperative that we do whatever is necessary to not spread the virus, as well. No handshakes, no hugging, and no working out or playing basketball in massive groups will be very difficult to overcome.” Taking these precautions is certainly a sacrifice that Hare would not have expected to make at any point of his NEIU experience, and the perseverance of Hare and the rest of NEIU’s student body is ultimately what is empowering the Fall 2021 semester’s physical feasibility.

However, while the return to campus means putting an end to the nearly three-semester-long face-to-face instruction hiatus, the sentiments expressed by Hare and fellow students are not exactly identical.

Senior and Community Health major Mazan Masiti made it clear that he had no complaints with finishing up his degree fully online and off campus. Masiti, who has taken numerous remote and online courses prior to the pandemic, did not have much of a reaction when he learned that the university’s campus would be reopening for the Fall 2021 semester. 

“The thought of being around people again does sound nice, but I would just like to play it safe seeing as how COVID-19 hasn’t completely gone away yet,” Masiti said. “I’d imagine that wearing a mask to every class would be a bit distracting, and since I’ve gotten comfortable with not commuting to school every single day, I’m fine with sticking to online courses.”

Considering how much schedule flexibility and deadline leniency exist in the virtual realm of academics, in addition to the many other benefits students have taken advantage of during these recent online semesters, it is no wonder that e-learners like Masiti are pumping the brakes on making their returns to campus.

However, like Hare, there are students who would be willing to make any kind of compromise in order to leave the online learning environment behind and reunite with the university’s campus grounds, especially seniors who are seeking one last memorable semester before their commencement. 

Senior and Human Resource Development (HRD hereafter) major Evelina Jaje was ecstatic when she learned that she would be able to spend her final semester surrounded by her friends and favorite faculty members. 

When asked how she would spend her final semester at NEIU soaking up the campus life, Jaje said, “At the start of this year I thought I’d never be able to visit campus again before I graduated, but fortunately I was given one last shot. I’ll make sure to spend more time here than usual and thank those within the HRD department who’ve supported me along the way.”

Appearing to be on the same wavelength as Hare, Jaje made it clear that not only will her return to campus this Fall feel long overdue, but being able to rejoice with those she has missed dearly will make her return feel all the more extravagant.

As the Fall 2021 semester inches closer and students prepare to flood the campus grounds that they have been longing for throughout the pandemic, it is important for each individual within NEIU’s tightly woven community to recognize the sacrifices and battles with adversity that have been made in order to stifle COVID-19’s hindrance.

From the moment NEIU abruptly halted in-person instruction and transitioned immediately to fully remote operations, the entire NEIU family has devoted countless hours toward maintaining a fully functioning university, and as a result, the doors will reopen only a year and a half after a worldwide pandemic. Regardless of whether students decide to return to campus for the Fall semester, NEIU can take pride in the fact that this day has finally come and that a promising future awaits. 

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