It is now widely established that Gonzaga University’s spring break, along with many other universities around the world, has not been the spring break that was planned.
GU students packed a bag, and headed home or elsewhere for what they thought would be just over a week. Now, a few days after students were to return to campus, the narrative for the rest of the semester is nowhere near what was anticipated.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) has stirred up feelings of stress, worry and anxiety for GU students and, in its wake, more questions than answers. This pandemic is something unlike what this generation has ever seen before, and the effect the virus is having on both human and economic health is unprecedented.
For many students, a few days before spring break there were concerns, albeit mostly mild, about flying home to places with more coronavirus cases than Spokane. In the weeks leading up to break, Seattle and Kirkland, Washington, became “hot-spots” for virus cases, which raised concerns about travel to those areas.
Flash forward to GU President Thayne McCulloh’s email on March 14 in response to Gov. Jay Inslee’s declaration that all higher education schools will be switching to online classes. Many GU students who had flown home to places with high numbers of coronavirus cases wondered if staying home would actually be safer than returning to school.
Sophomore Liz Franklin expressed concerns about flying back home to Renton, Washington, some 20 minutes away from Kirkland, which, at the time, was a major epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Washington.
“The cities around me are so inundated with cases,” Franklin said. “Being back in Spokane would give me peace of mind, as well as a sense of routine and normalcy, something that I think a lot of college students are missing right now and could really be beneficial.”
Franklin said she believes being back at school surrounded by that strong sense of community, which GU is known for, would help relieve some of the stress students are feeling. She thinks the isolation, although necessary, is what’s causing much of the anxiety in students.
Franklin said she applauds how the school has handled this pandemic, and credits McCulloh, as well as everyone on administrative staff, for careful consideration in making these changes.
“I appreciate how they are taking their time and being careful with their choices,” Franklin said. “Things are changing so fast but Thayne’s emails explaining their thought process and how they’re dealing with this step by step have been really helpful.”
This pandemic is not something anyone could have prepared for, and disruption to college life is the last thing anyone thought would happen, back when this virus first appeared in Wuhan, China.
Franklin credits her hometown community, as well as the Spokane community, for stepping up and adapting to these changing norms. She said community programs that offer childcare or lunches for school children are critical in these times, and small businesses or organizations that host them should be acknowledged and thanked for their hard work.
“Back home, there’s been a Facebook page created where people from the community can submit their childcare qualifications to help out local families,” Franklin said. “We have this huge indoor soccer field where parents can bring their kids to hangout for the day because all practices have been shut down. It’s really great to see people making this into something positive and doing what’s best to help those around us.”
Sophomore Elizabeth Nunes said that in light of all the panic and chaos stemming from these uncertain times, communities and individuals are looking out for one another.
Nunes has seen members of her own community in Poulsbo, Washington, helping those who are in need, or just simply trying to keep that sense of camaraderie alive.
She said she also would have more peace of mind if she were to return to campus, rather than stay at home for the remainder of the semester. Her town has a higher elderly population than Spokane, and she would be more concerned about being a potential carrier and passing it on to someone from the high-risk demographic if she stayed home, rather than if she returned to Spokane, where the community demographic is much younger.
Nunes said that in a time where staying as calm and levelheaded as possible is key, students should be able to choose their next steps according to their comfort level.
“Knowing that Sacred Heart Hospital is close to campus, should it be needed, I think would bring peace of mind to students and faculty," Nunes said.
Given this pandemic has spread quickly, and information can change hour to hour, Nunes said that while GU was later than other schools in providing information, it was more thorough in its explanations and clearer in the steps it is taking than other schools.
“I’m grateful that Gonzaga has taken this so seriously and is really trying to do what’s best for the students and faculty,” Nunes said. “I really hope that we can come back to campus and finish up the year there. I think it would help boost morale and help students who might be feeling down or depressed because of the isolation.”