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“You never know what you don’t know”: one year into the pandemic

On March 13, 2020, exactly a year ago this past Saturday, Miami University President Greg Crawford sent an email to the student body notifying them that classes would be delivered remotely for the remainder of the spring 2020 semester.

The email came after a series of changing plans for the university, starting with an email from President Crawford on March 10, 2020 that moved classes online until April 12, 2020.

At the time, the university was responding to calls from Gov. Mike DeWine to move education to remote learning after three Ohioans in Cuyahoga County tested positive for COVID-19 on March 9, the first positive cases in Ohio.

Now, a year later, Ohio has reported around 988,000 cumulative cases and almost 18,000 deaths from COVID-19. 

Dean of Students Kimberly Moore said her office knows much more than it did a year ago regarding containment strategies and operations.

“March of last year, people thought, maybe we need to kind of go home and regroup and we’ll be there for a couple of weeks and then we’ll come out,” Moore said. “I don’t think anybody knew the duration that we were about to face.”

Jayne Brownell, Miami’s vice president for student affairs, said the events of the past year have changed the way she and her colleagues do their work forever. 

“I think this is a moment that makes us rethink what students need, how we deliver support and services [and reinforces] the idea that community is important, that engagement is important, that college is more than what happens in the classroom,” Brownell said. 

Brownell said the past year was one of the most difficult in her professional career, even after noting that she worked in New York during 9/11. 

She also said she understood that when students imagined their college experience, it didn’t include a pandemic. 

“Unfortunately, there are points in time where people of college age are asked to take on more adult responsibilities,” Brownell said. “Sometimes, it is because there was a war … or there was the depression or other kinds of upheaval in the world where you are forced not only to think about your own experience but how you have an impact on your community.”

Moore said each student, in addition to pandemic concerns, has their own circumstances to consider.

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“When confronted with disruption, confronted with unexpected challenges and circumstances, you know, our students manage the best way they can,” Moore said. “I think the difference about the COVID year is that it was multiple adaptations, at the same time, for a long time.”

Meta Hoge, a sophomore journalism major and sustainability co-major, said in an interview with The Miami Student last March that she was sad to leave campus after finally finding her place at Miami. 

“I just had some anxiety over like, ‘Oh am I going to still keep in touch with everybody?’ and you know, we’re supposed to not be gathering and all that, so I was just worried about feeling more lonely, but it all worked out,” Hoge said. 

Hoge said she’s come a long way from where she was this time last year. 

“Despite COVID going on, I’m doing a lot better mentally than I was last year,” Hoge said. “In a way, I’ve kind of learned a lot about myself.”

Hoge said if she could go back and tell herself something, it would be that everything was going to turn out OK. 

“I would tell myself, ‘You’re gonna do good and still have friends’ and stuff like that,” Hoge said.

Michael Ferro, a junior international studies and Spanish double major, said life in the pandemic just feels normal now.

“I feel like last year in March where everything was so new, no one knew what was happening, everything got shut down — now we know more about what’s happening,” Ferro said. “It feels normal, I know it’s not normal at all, but, [we’ve] been doing it for so long, like this semester and the fall — it just feels normal to me.”

Moore said during the beginning of the pandemic, she was proud of the way students responded to the uncertainty. The fall, she said, was a wake up call for students when guidelines and restrictions became more prevalent in campus life. 

“Most of our students do the right thing almost all the time,” Moore said. “For the students who wanted to do things in the traditional way, they were met with some pretty, pretty stark consequences.”

This spring, though, Moore said far more students are choosing not to follow guidelines.

“[In] the fall, I saw much more of a community approach from students,” Moore said. “So that’s been disheartening. We are seeing a spike in our COVID cases again, and we are seeing just increased compliance issues across the board.”

Hoge said this past year has made her value the little things in her life more.

“It makes you appreciate more the moments when you actually go and do something, even if it's just like going to get some ice cream,” Hoge said. 

Ferro said he would advise his past self to be prepared for a “long ride.”

“Last year, I was supposed to study abroad in the summer, and that didn’t happen, and I was supposed to study abroad this semester, and that didn’t happen, so it’s like, I eventually just realized those weren’t going to happen,” Ferro said. “I would tell myself, ‘Just get ready, things are going to happen and just go with the flow.’”

Moore said the past year taught her a valuable lesson. 

“You never know what you don’t know,” Moore said. “I would really enjoy being face to face again and being in the same room and company of my colleagues and my students again. I miss that a lot when I look back to pre-COVID times.”

Brownell said some of the key things the student body and university have learned over the last year include adaptability, innovation and not taking things for granted. 

“I think that the thing I will take away from 2020 more than anything,” Brownell said, “is to be ready for whatever today brings and to manage that, and to then move on to the next hard thing.”