OPINION: The ghost of education’s past

A+student+sits+at+Saint+Vincent%E2%80%99s+Circle+in+DePaul%E2%80%99s+Lincoln+Park+campus.+Students+have+returned+to+campus+after+a+full+year+of+online+classes+due+to+Covid-19.

Maddy Maes

A student sits at Saint Vincent’s Circle in DePaul’s Lincoln Park campus. Students have returned to campus after a full year of online classes due to Covid-19.

I put the fresh in freshman, but not in a cool, stylish way. It’s more like a late-to-class-because-I-couldn’t-find-the-elevator kind of way.

I am in my sixth year of college, yet I feel brand new.

The Covid-19 pandemic paused the world as we once knew it. March 2020 is a significant notch in the timeline of humanity, most people can tell you exactly where they were when they realized Covid-19 would cause a shutdown. Like millions of students worldwide, I was at school.

The academic year that followed transformed how we learned. We went from sitting next to classmates and sharing notes, to adjacent boxes and sharing screens. Our bedrooms became our libraries. We were once able to ask for help instantly, face-to-face, but that switched to virtual office hours. The memories of pre-pandemic school haunted my head and lurked around as I would join with computer audio instead.

College, I want to remember you for what you were, not what you are – and there lies the problem.

This is the ghost of education’s past – past, present and future. It’s what I remember school to be like before compared to what it was during the shutdown and now, as a second-year graduate student, what I struggle with adjusting to at an entirely new program.

My first year of school at DePaul was primarily spent in my apartment. I looked forward to lengthy Zoom classes because they gave an opportunity to speak and be heard. I set up meetings with my professors and advisors because I craved communicating, but what I really wanted to do was set up a class-only zoom just to walk to my fellow students outside of a five-minute breakout room.

Now, classes are back on campus and so are the students who lived behind their screens for over a year. A generation of learners forced inside are now catching up on not only assignments, but a year’s worth of experiences.

Sure, moving across the country in a pandemic was not exactly the plan, but that is the situation I found myself in. I’m not alone.

Shaheer Roshan, a rising sophomore and marketing student, moved from Pakistan to Chicago to attend DePaul University during Winter Quarter 2021. In order to meet his visa requirements, he had to take one in-person class each quarter.

“Mostly my online classes – I’ll be honest I used to sleep in some of those because it was early in the morning, but I still managed to get good grades,” Roshan said. “Being in person and seeing everyone around is really joyful because when I was on campus last winter, there was no one – literally just like the people from my classes. It [was] depressing.”

Roshan is enjoying the livelier campus atmosphere compared to the last academic year.

“I’m trying to get all my classes in-person because I feel like I can do better in person than online,” Roshan said. “[As an] international student, interaction is important.”

Remote instruction made school more complicated for students like DePaul freshman Isadora Halsband, whose senior year of high school was hybrid depending on Covid-19 rates in Michigan.

“I’m a pretty extroverted person and I like to talk to people and meet new people,” Halsband said. “I can’t really learn over a screen very well.”

She said she was so used to finishing school, driving home and getting away from her work. The pandemic blurred the line between workspace and leisurely space for students learning from home. Halsband now lives on DePaul’s Lincoln Park campus.

“This is a very liberating feeling to be able to walk around and meet people,” Halsband said. “I think it was kind of a strange transition. Already high school is a big transition to college. I came from a little suburb… So, to come to Chicago and all of a sudden be on campus and [see] all these people in person is a big change.”

I’ve been at DePaul over a year and I’m learning so much in the classroom and in the city itself. Learning in person is more fulfilling than pressing a button to raise my hand. I still have a lot to learn and a lot to explore my last two quarters here.

I’ll never forget walking into the UIC campus building on Jackson and asking a custodian if it was DePaul. Surprised, he pointed across the street and continued to mop. I wonder if he could tell I was a sixth-year freshman. I wonder if he was a ghost of my education’s past.