Just before midnight on March 13, Loyola Marymount University President Timothy Law Snyder sent an email to all students, calling for anyone housed on campus to evacuate by March 22. Covid-19 had hit not only Los Angeles, but LMU as well—at least one student had tested positive. Students found themselves scrambling to completely alter their living and learning environments, and not everyone was certain what awaited them back home.
LMU announced that classes would be delayed until March 23 to alleviate some of the burden placed on students, emphasizing that they could submit petitions to stay on campus. Students were forced to navigate all of that while also adapting to an online learning environment.
“I didn’t have time to process,” said Raven Yamamoto, a junior journalism major. “I had to figure out, ‘How am I gonna get home?’ I need to call my parents, I need to book a flight. I need to move out. I live in a house of seven people. How am I going to get everything out of here?”
Students weren’t sure what to expect at home, especially those whose families lived in states already hit hard by Covid-19. Amber Rivera, a sophomore screenwriting major from Poughkeepsie, New York, petitioned to stay in her on-campus housing so she wouldn’t have to face uncertainty in New York. As an asthmatic, Rivera is particularly vulnerable to Covid-19.
“It wasn’t a guarantee that they would accept my petition,” she said. “I was going through my head, ‘What are my options if I don’t get housing?’ My first thought was to go back home, but that was last case. I was trying to find other places.”
Two weeks after LMU announced a mandatory evacuation, the New York Times reported that 37,258 people across the state were confirmed to have Covid-19. Rivera’s mother and sister both contracted COVID-19 soon after LMU announced its evacuation.
“It would probably have been me helping my sister, trying to take care of my mom,” she said. “Now my sister’s sick, so it would be me and my mother taking care of her…. They just feel like their head is underwater. Physically, not even metaphorically. If I got it, I couldn’t even imagine trying to do any kind of homework.”
Susan Huang, a sophomore studio arts major, also faced concerns about returning to her home. “My family and I decided against me flying because it is very dangerous,” she said. “I could get Corona during transit, and my mom is not in her best health. My older sisters and I decided not to go home.”
LMU has now sent all students home, except for those who petitioned to stay on campus. Jordan Lounsbury, the assistant director for resident services at LMU, estimated that before the pandemic there were about 3,200 residents in on- and off-campus LMU residences. He did not know how many students were still housed on campus post-evacuation.
New difficulties such as adapting to online learning while in quarantine have taken a toll on both student morale and productivity. Due to quarantine procedures, resources such as editing labs, which students like Rivera typically need to do their work, are now closed. As a result, she said she is asking for extensions from her teachers. And she’s not alone in feeling that her academics have suffered considerably.
“I think that [online learning] has depreciated the quality of my learning almost completely,” Yamamoto said. “Not only am I not getting the same mentorship or educational experience that I would in a classroom setting, I’m three hours behind. A lot of my classes were early in the morning. I wake up every day at 6 a.m. for my 9:40 a.m. [class]. To wake up at 6 a.m. to take a two-hour class, and then take another two-hour class, can be ridiculous.”
Douglas Cantor, a professor of political science at LMU, believes that online learning is an imperfect solution that will be abandoned as soon as possible.
“The internet has not replaced the classroom,” he said. “Look how we’re all online right now. If we have classes in the fall, we’re all going to be back in the classroom. We all have the ability to do this through a screen, and we’re not. Why? Because… no one has thought of a better way to learn than a teacher standing in front of a room and talking to them.”
Though, in the face of a global pandemic, many universities, including the California State University system, plan on maintaining online instruction during their summer and fall terms.
On April 28, LMU Provost Thomas Poon announced that LMU plans to employ a hybrid format (both in-person and online learning) in the fall, but that additional information would be available May 27. Students will no doubt be eagerly waiting for more info.