Students reflect on online start to the spring semester


Kaycee Orwig | Senior Staff Photographer

The Cathedral of Learning and William Pitt Union on campus.

By Alexandra Ross, Staff Writer

For Hannah Sharp, a junior biology major, returning to virtual classes for the start of the spring semester has already taken its toll.

“My mental health is terrible,” Sharp said. “Hasn’t been worse.”

Pitt announced on Dec. 30, 11 days before classes were set to start, that it would implement a cohort-based arrival program for on-campus students and host online classes for at least two and a half weeks. The changes came as COVID-19 cases across the country rose drastically due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant. With classes online for now, students reflected on the continued impact of COVID-19 on their college education and experience.

Lauren Reuther, a senior psychology and gender, sexuality and women’s studies major who works as a student behavioral associate at UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital, said the number of COVID-19 exposures in the hospital was getting concerningly high.

“Pretty much the majority of units are considered a yellow zone, meaning that there was a COVID exposure in that a patient and/or a staff is sick with COVID,” Reuther said. “And it’s literally like, my whole hospital I’m working at, which has not happened since probably the beginning, when everything started in 2020.”

Since coming back to Oakland for her virtual classes, Sharp said she has struggled with feeling isolated and unmotivated. She said asking her friends and members of her sorority, Alpha Epsilon Phi, to study with her at the library has helped her stay focused.

“Now, I’ll have five people like, ‘Oh, I’ll come to the library with you, like, I’ll just hang out,’” Sharp said. “I feel like that’s really helpful.”

Chris McGlade, a junior political science major, also returned to Oakland to attend his virtual classes from an off-campus residence. He said living in Oakland until in-person classes resume offers him more things to do and a better environment for studying than his hometown.

“Seeing that there was like nothing really to do where I live, I decided that I would just come to campus and try to see what I can do here and have more of a study environment than what I might have at home,” McGlade said.

After being either partially or fully online for most of his college career, McGlade said he has gotten used to Zoom and isn’t as upset by the return of virtual classes.

“At this point, I think hearing things are online is much more of like, a ‘sigh’ and kind of annoying,” McGlade said. “But I understand it’s pretty necessary and I’m hopeful that we’ll return.”

Reuther said she also hopes to go back to in-person classes on time, because online classes are worse for both her mental health and academic success.

“I just do better academically and mentally when I have reasons to leave my house, and I just feel more engaged in class,” Reuther said. “There’s less distractions. I just learn better.”

Sharp said she isn’t worried about catching COVID-19 while on Pitt’s campus, in part because a majority of Pitt students consistently mask up.

“Even last semester, it wasn’t required in stores and coffee shops, but Pitt students were always wearing masks either way, which is what I do and what I noticed that everyone’s doing,” Sharp said.

As a student health care worker, Reuther also said she doesn’t feel uncomfortable attending in-person classes because she already works in an environment in which COVID-19 exposure is much more likely.

“I’m a health care worker, so I’m exposed to COVID literally all the time,” Reuther said. “So going to class doesn’t really scare me, but I understand why other people are nervous.”

McGlade said he hopes to see professors continue to offer a virtual option for students this semester, even after in-person classes resume, because he sees it as beneficial to students.

“I know some of my teachers ended the Zoom meetings, and I think that created some problems for some kids,” McGlade said. “Whereas in the other classes that kept meeting in person and a Zoom thing running — that was a good way to bridge some gaps.”

McGlade said he believes the amount of anticipation around returning on Jan. 27, as well as decreased patience after years of pandemic restrictions, will motivate administrators to end online classes on time.

“I would probably assume that we do go in person on time, just because I think there’s a lot of anticipation around that specific date,” McGlade said. “Especially as we’re in year three, I guess entering year three of a pandemic, people might start wanting to be less flexible, like, ‘We set this date, we’ll just return to in person on this date.’”