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Op-ed: Managing and dealing with feelings of hopelessness in an online environment

(Charles Deluvio/Unsplash) One study published in the Journal of Medical Internet research found that of the 195 students surveyed, 138 (71%) indicated increased stress and anxiety due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

David Rosario
Connector Staff

It’s been nearly a year since UMass Lowell adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic, and many students still continue to pursue their educational goals. With the many challenges brought on by the pandemic, one aspect of the college experience has been overlooked: campus events. I am a senior at the university, so I have gotten the opportunity to attend events and build relationships, but I still feel like I did not take advantage of or enjoy enough of the events UMass Lowell offered because I was too shy and isolated.

Sometimes, I wish I had attended events more often. It would be nice to reflect on past event experiences so that I could continue to appreciate them even more. Instead, I am stuck wondering if these events are what my college experience has been missing. Having more interests and people to socialize with might have been a good distraction or source of support when the pandemic arrived.

Right now, I feel confined to certain parts of the world, such as my workplace and home. I must always be cautious about where I go, and I can no longer go anywhere freely. I have to think carefully about how my actions will affect those around me.

I miss going on short walks and watching other students hustle to their classes. The conversations and urban music playing from Starbucks felt earthly. UMass Lowell’s environment was calming.

For me, school is different now because my laptop dictates everything I do. Now, I must check a bunch of emails, look over any pending meetings and navigate my assignments through various web pages or links. The online world does not compare to the way things were.

The online environment has proven to have several limitations. Some freshmen at UMass Lowell are not even given the chance to interact with others or explore the campuses in person. Real-world conversations and activities can energize students, but the virtual mode of learning has made engaging in such activities much more difficult.

UMass Lowell hosts virtual events in an effort to unify students, but it still does not make up for our loss of reality. It does not emulate the same feelings that in-person events do. Some of my most relaxing moments do not come from looking at a computer or smartphone screen, but rather from being around and socializing with people. Taking the time to connect with others is essential.

As far as I can see, COVID-19 vaccines will continue to be distributed to the public. The distribution of vaccines is a significant step towards students regaining a formal college experience. However, there is still a misconception that comes along with this. The vaccines should help most people stay protected from the virus, but that does not necessarily mean life is going to go back to normal right away.

I am sure that students and staff at UMass Lowell are eager for a sense of normality. Before the UMass Lowell community can get there though, everyone should keep their expectations low and remain hopeful. Without a doubt, students deserve to have an ongoing number of virtual events available to them until then.

I will admit that continuing to interact through the internet is better than nothing. While UMass Lowell hosts many fun events, I would still encourage students to make suggestions for event themes and topics as it might help tailor the events to the interests of students.

If virtual events are not of interest to incoming college students, there are also alternatives they can use to socialize with others. For example, students can create Facebook groups or Discord servers to support one another. There are a variety of things that students can do to interact on these platforms including sharing images, posting videos and using chat. Finding connection through whatever is available online is the best we can do right now.

In addition, students should make the most out of virtual classes. Turning on the camera and engaging in a conversation with other students can be rewarding. I commend the younger college students who are persisting through these tough circumstances. I am not sure how I would feel if I were in their position, which is why I admire their ambition. In these times, students should remain self-aware and be open to different things because everyone deserves fun and numerous outlets for themselves while pursuing their academic goals.

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