I recently watched an episode of the Netflix show Cheer – S2:E6. In this episode, the students were discussing the impact that COVID has had on their college experience.
“I feel like I’m spending all this money going to college, and I’m not getting the full experience that I wanted.” – Aliyah Clark, Navarro Cheerleader
They talk about having limits on the number of people allowed to visit their dorm room. About having to abide by all the new rules and be super careful otherwise they risk getting into two weeks of quarantine again. How practices, some of the only times they’re allowed to congregate in larger numbers, get cancelled for weeks at a time. And then not even getting to cheer at games, which is a large part of their ‘purpose’ within the cheer program. Having to do classes online – in fact they show one shot of some students performing a dissection on the floor of their dorm room.
They talk about how they’re supposed to be feeling like a big family within their cheer community, and that feeling simply isn’t there because they haven’t had any opportunities for team bonding. No real opportunities to get to know each other at all outside very directed practice times.
It damn near made me cry.
These students describing what they were missing out on, without actually truly knowing, because they’ve never experienced it before. They were grieving an experience that they’ve never actually had, and they were grieving it hard. To the point of wanting to call it quits and just go home. Give up their studies, give up their opportunity to be part of one of the most prestigious college cheer programs in the country. All because they are missing pieces of their college experience puzzle.
Pieces that many would scoff at – ‘you’re here to study, not socialise’.
I think that really highlights the importance of the FULL educational experience. School isn’t just about what you learn – it’s ALLLLL of the other things too. The people you’re surrounded by, both students and staff. It’s the activities both in and out of the classroom. It’s the facilities available to you. It’s the collegiality of going through this process with a heap of other people. It’s the decision making. It’s so much, most of which we used to take for granted as being part of the educational experience.
It made me reflect on my own university experience – it was entirely MADE by the in-person interactions. Going to a lecture, meeting classmates who became friends. Catching up between classes, occasionally skipping a lecture to go into the city and socialise instead. I made lifelong friends at University. I met my husband there. That would not have been possible had we been using an online model. I literally can’t imagine what my life would be like now had I not attended in person. Sure, an online model would have been a lot more convenient. Not having a 60-90min commute each way each day would have been great, but I would have missed out on so much. All the things these students have missed out on.
Not only have they missed out on it all, but they’ve got all the other pressures and stressors of the pandemic on top. It’s not like they can just leave college and go back to ‘normal’ life, because the rest of the country was/is in the same position. Experiences like college are often quite time-limited, so I can imagine a lot of these students are grieving because they feel like they’ve had this one single chance to experience these things just ripped away from them. And that hurts.
I’d be curious to see long-term social impacts of the pandemic on that particular age group. Did people stay closer friends with their group from high school, instead of losing touch by physically going to different places after graduation? Are friendship groups smaller and tighter, because you have less opportunities to meet new people? Or in contrast are they far more loose and open, because you’re interacting digitally with potentially a much larger group? Are there more long-distance romantic relationships in this age group? Are students working more (where work is able), because they have no commute time and can watch lectures at any time?
And what impact has this had on teaching teams in higher education? That’s not a group I’m well connected with, 9 years after graduating my last degree. Are they as satisfied with their work, given the limited interactions they had with students during periods of online learning?
Of course the pandemic has affected all of us, and every single one of us has missed out on experiences that we were very much looking forward to. One person’s suffering does not diminish another’s. I think as teachers it’s vitally important to emathise with the feelings our students are having about the impact on their educational experiences.