DePaul students reflect on another quarter of hybrid learning


Eric Henry

The statue of John J. Egan, located outside of the Lincoln Park Student Center, wearing a mask.

At this point, everyone in the DePaul community is well aware the university moved almost all classes online for the fall and winter. One of the few classes that met in-person this quarter was PSC 150, or Intro to Comparative Politics taught by Professor Richard Farkas. 

“I have the impression maybe eight or nine classes are in-person. I think the bulk of those are downtown,” Farkas said.  

The class met twice a week in Arts and Letters Hall. The space used was an auditorium-style classroom that allowed for social distancing and all students were expected to wear masks. Only around 20 students opted to attend the in-person class while an asynchronous option was also available for students unable to go to campus. 

Freshman Mia Gutierrez is one the students taking PSC 150. 

“This is my only in-person class. I think it’s going to be my only in-person class for a while since most classes next quarter are online,” Gutierrez said.  

Because the population of students living on-campus was significantly reduced this quarter, many students in this class have had to find ways to commute to campus. 

“I live on the south side by Midway,” Gutierrez said. “So, I have to take the bus to the orange line, then I take the orange line down to Harold, and then I get on the brown line to come here. It’s usually like a good hour and 30 or an hour and 40 minutes if I don’t miss the bus. If I do miss the bus, it would take me over two hours because my bus runs on 40-minute intervals.” 

Normally, DePaul has a substantial number of commuter students who come to campus for several classes; however, is one class worth the trouble of a two-hour commute? 

“Obviously, I’m coming here to get an education which has, thus far, been worth it,” Gutierrez said. “But sometimes it can be draining on your mental and physical health, which sucks. But I feel like with the break coming up, it will be a good time to recharge. You win some, you lose some.” 

Others, like senior Hector Cervantes who’s also taking PSC 150, gets to class with more ease. 

“I’m a facilities assistant, so I’m living in a dorm,” Cervantes said. “I would say it is worth staying on campus, I am just disappointed we’re not getting the full college experience. I just wish there could be more people. There are only 250 people living on campus.” 

“Next quarter, I don’t have any in-person classes, so I’ll probably be staying at home a lot more and not really be in my apartment,” said sophomore Macy Hittmeier. 

Having one in-person class was reasonable enough to get an apartment near the Lincoln Park campus. 

“If I was fully online, I wouldn’t even have moved onto campus. The little amount of the experience I’m still getting wouldn’t have been there,” she said.  

“Naturally, I requested that both my classes be on-campus, but they cut it down to one,” Farkas said. “Being on campus takes an extra effort. I think it is the only way for the student to have 100 percent of the experience. That’s what I get paid to do. I think the remote classes, even from the very best professors, is only about 80 percent of the experience.” 

After mentioning to others that they have a class that meets on-campus, evidently, has garnered mixed reactions. 

New signage of pandemic protocols are seen throughout DePaul’s campus life. (Eric Henry)

“Some of my professors have been surprised that I even have an in-person class because everyone was under the impression that all classes were online,” Gutierrez said. “Some people think it’s cool but then there is also a little resentment from people who didn’t get the option to take in-person classes. I understand, because having this class has been so beneficial for getting back on track with a schedule. I would be upset too.” 

Cervantes detailed the disappointment his friends that are seniors in college have felt. 

“My friend was on Facebook saying that, ‘You guys that have in-person classes should all feel lucky because I’m staying home literally not doing anything. Senior year is not what I envisioned. If you have in-person classes, don’t complain. Go to your classes as much as possible,’” Cervantes said.

“I don’t know anyone else with an in-person class,” said Hittmeier. “Some of my friends think I’m lucky to have this class and some people kind of frown against it.” 

Although CDC guidelines were followed by the students attending the class, meeting in-person these days is still risky. As the quarter continued, a few students were not able to come to class due to exposure to the coronavirus.  

“Having an in-person class has made me act more careful about getting the virus, especially because the professor is older. I just didn’t want the class to be taken away if someone messed up. Then we wouldn’t have this class anymore, and I would have felt like I moved in for no reason,” said Heitmeier. 

The experience of a quasi-normal fall quarter was something these students looked forward to. Admittedly, they felt that campus was just far too different.

“I really miss seeing people. A lot of people would be saying hi to me,” Cervantes said. “Now, maybe one or two people out of the entire quarter have come up and said hi. I only see about eight or nine people each day, so that says a lot. There is no engagement in the residence halls.” 

Academically, the virtual fall quarter has had many implications. 

“The lack of interface between multiple populations of people has changed the dynamic,” Farkas said. “Students who study political science, students who don’t study political science, professors who get involved, the special things we organize on campus, discussions, guest speakers and all sorts of things.” 

Hittmeier offered a picture of what the Lincoln Park campus is normally like. 

“I would walk all the way down Belden to go to class, and I would see students going back and forth and it would just be so pretty and felt happier. After class every day, I would go to Brownstones and sit there for hours and do homework. When I finished, I could go home and socialize. Now it’s all a blur,” she said.  

Nowadays, the area around the Lincoln Park campus is largely empty except for the cars passing by, people walking their dogs, jogging, or children playing on the quad. 

“We would have events on the quad all the time. There’s so much more to do usually. You know, you take the L and do something new every weekend. I guess freshmen should just look forward to that,” said Hittmeier.

Looking ahead to spring quarter, students doubt that many classes would return to campus. 

“Ideally, I’d love for all of us to come back during the spring. But at the rate it’s going in Chicago, I’d be surprised if we don’t go fully remote,” said Gutierrez. 

Farkas’ primary concern is the quality of education students are deriving from classes. 

“What it really boils down to is that I can look at you and find out whether you’re following or not. With my asynchronous online Russian Politics class, the material is robust. But I can’t tell if students are responding to it,” he admitted. “After 45 years, you develop the ability to get a read on students. I can tell how much they are tuned in during class every day. I could do it even better if they weren’t spaced out so dramatically and if they didn’t have masks on. You can’t do that at all online.” 

Students would overwhelmingly agree that in-person classes are far better than the virtual alternative. The former, however, is simply not possible now. 

“Classes really are so much easier, and you get such a different experience when it’s in-person. In a lot of classes, you almost make like a little family and everyone is a significant person,” Hittmeier said. “Classes are smaller and you get to bond with your professor. A lot of people come here for that. Right now, it almost feels like going to a big school where you don’t get that experience.” 

“At the beginning of the term, some of my colleagues would have preferred in-person classes. I think, now, some of them have gotten quite accustomed to the ease with which you can do your job from home,” Farkas suggested. “Some have young families. Not being away all day at the office helps. Some are learning that if you have your course organized online, you can use it over and over again without much change. There are lots of things about teaching remotely that are sort of inciting that are unhealthy.” 

“I think after seeing how an in-person class works right now, we were pretty far apart from each other, we all wore masks, and luckily everyone stayed really safe, so it worked well. If we could count on a lot of people to do the same, then I think having more in-person classes [during] spring quarter would be possible. But that’s a big thing to put on a bunch of young people who like to have a college experience, go out, and party,” Hittmeier said.

Until the pandemic subsides to the point universities like DePaul feel comfortable increasing the number of in-person classes, students and faculty will have to continue wrestling with the virtual format.