For Students, Returning to the Classroom Has Been a Mixed Blessing


Concordia University Chicago sign prior to students returning to campus in August (credits: cuchicago Instagram)

Carter Gledhill, Editor-in-Chief

The daily life of masks and social distancing has become second nature for the Concordia University Chicago community. As the fall comes to an end, students reflect on the highs and lows of navigating through another COVID-19 ridden semester.

It has been 21 months since university president Russell Dawn, D.Phil., announced on March 16, 2020 that CUC would transition to an e-learning environment for the remainder of that academic year.

Students returned to campus in late August with many of the same university policies from the prior year still in place, including a mask mandate and capacity restrictions in all university buildings. Despite the mask mandate, campus life felt livelier with more activities, social gatherings, and noticeably larger crowds at athletic competitions.

For those who experienced the campus routine before the shutdown, this fall felt significantly closer to typical college life. “I feel like it’s mostly back to normal, but there are some things that aren’t the same as it was two years ago,” said Holly Bathje, a senior on the softball team and Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) president.

Chris Johnston, director of counseling services, joined CUC at the beginning of the fall 2021 semester. He observed that the university students had adjusted well to the difficult circumstances and restrictions of the pandemic. “Younger people, especially college students, are affected by it, but are more flexible and less set in their way,” said Johnston. “They also have a great sense of freedom, which they learn to adapt to be successful under current and everchanging restrictions.”

While he sees a change in the students on campus, Johnston understands underlying factors still affect some students. “Overall people prefer to be back, but they feel restricted,” said Johnston. “Even though students are seeing me not about COVID-related issues, it certainly exacerbates the situation and makes the environment harder.”

For many students, the classroom environment has been the biggest obstacle to overcome this semester. In-person classes returned to full operations this fall after only a handful were offered in the spring.

“It’s been a lot harder to focus in class in-person,” said senior Sydney Sterrett. “On Zoom, it was easier to take breaks and space out if needed. Being in a class again is weird.”

Sterrett found that her workload and assignments had changed in unexpected ways between her virtual and in-person classes. “Last year there was a lot more discussion posts and essays, which I didn’t mind to some extent,” said Sterrett. “This year there are more projects and group required instead.”

Outside of the classroom, however, CUC students were able to socialize more and participate in extracurricular organizations. “There is no other time in your life that you want to be social and engage with other people than in college,” Johnston said.

The university allowed for the return of Homecoming festivities, pep rallies, and large campus activities with updated COVID protocols in place. Residence Life reinstated intervis hours in campus dorms after last years’ ban. Campus dinning allowed for regular setting in both the cafeteria and the Cougar Den.

As a result, students took full advantage of their chance to re-engage with campus life. “Being able to do more with my friends on campus is something I value a ton,” said junior Katie Schrems. “I missed the big events like Homecoming, but it’s also the little things like hanging out in dorm rooms with people that made me love my freshman year.”

As finals week brings an end to the fall semester, students and faculty can look forward to a three-week holiday break. Many students are ready to go home, and recharge after the enduring semester. “I need it for sure,” said sophomore Wyatt McLaughlin, who lives in Cave Creek, Arizona. “I can’t wait to see my family, dog, and just relax.”

Following the winter break, classes will resume on Monday, Jan. 10. The university has not released any updates or changes to their current campus operations.