UNI students debate distance and in-person learning


Editor’s note: This article references mental health struggles. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800) 273-8255.

In 2019, the COVID-19 virus struck the United States, throwing us all into a state of emergency. Since then, the U.S. has begun to loosen restrictions on what citizens can do, where they can be and how they do those activities. One of the changes this year included sending students back to school.

In March 2019, spring break turned into summer, and summer ended up being an entire year long. Many students, new and old, had their preferences when returning to campus this semester. Avery Schweitzer, a senior family services major, spoke to me about her experiences the past four years at UNI, including her thoughts on distance learning.

“I’ve never been an overly social person, so I enjoyed distance learning,” Schweitzer said. She has been at the university since her freshman year. She’s lived in the dorms, in a small apartment and is now living in a home off-campus with three other roommates.

“Being in a small space sometimes added challenges last year. It was hard to find space and time for people to do their activities in the living room when three other people were also trying to do schoolwork from home.”

For Schweitzer, her grades improved while learning from home. When asked why this was, she explained that learning in a comfortable environment was easier for her. Doing homework, talking with professors and maintaining a healthy lifestyle was easier for Schweitzer, who felt that distance learning was less stressful. Schweitzer said having class online made it easier to complete schoolwork and have a somewhat normal social life. Upon returning to campus this year, she is fully vaccinated and chooses to wear a mask when she feels it will keep others safe.

“One thing that makes me uneasy about coming back to campus is the fact that so many people aren’t vaccinated and still choose not to wear masks. I am and know plenty of people that are immunocompromised, and it’s scary to think I have to put my life at risk to get an education.”

While Schweitzer enjoyed distance learning, not every student felt the same way. Another senior, who asked to remain anonymous, spoke about their struggles while locked at home.

“At first, I was like yeah sweet, a long vacation. But eventually, being locked at home took a toll on my mental health,” the senior stated. At home, the UNI student has a parent battling leukemia. This made it very hard to be social and interact with anyone other than roommates.

According to the CDC in the article, National and State Trends in Anxiety and Depression Severity Scores Among Adults During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, 2020–2021, depression and anxiety rates increased 13% in August 2020. In Iowa alone, the average depression severity test score increased from 1.87 to 2.14. This UNI student happened to be part of that increase, suffering from major depressive disorder and anxiety.

“My anxiety was always so high. I could never go home and found myself stuck in my room, stuck in my bed, all day.” Some days seemed worse than others, but things took a turn for the worse in July 2020, only four months after the pandemic began.

“I was admitted to the hospital after a suicide attempt.” The student talked about how being shut out from the world and without a regular schedule hurt them in a way they never knew possible.

“Returning to school this year has been helpful to me in so many ways. I have my job back, I can see my friends and family, and I feel like my life is slowly becoming normal again,” they claimed.

While every student has their own opinions on distance learning, being pulled away from a normal schedule was very difficult for everyone. Within the next few months, both students hope that life as we know it becomes more and more “the way it once was.”