For many undergrads like Darius Akinrimisi, the 2020 spring break served as the turning point in an academic journey that will soon wrap up in the most unconventional of ways: alone and behind the computer screen at home.
Though the soon-to-be Bowie State University graduate has a bevy of offers for remote jobs across the country, he said navigating the last couple semesters of college online didn’t come without hardship, especially when rectifying discrepancies on his transcript.
“I have to send emails to my counselor, and I’m waiting and sitting back when I have problems,” said Akinrimisi, who’s majoring in computer technology.
“I have to send [questions] to this person and that person,’ he continued.
“It hasn’t affected my transcript too badly, but I had some issues [a couple semesters ago] when my credits were messed up. It took a while to fix because of this situation. If I was on campus, it would’ve been faster.”
This past fall, at the beginning of Akinrimisi’s senior year, nearly two out of three U.S. colleges and universities primarily conducted online classes, while overall undergraduate enrollment across the country dropped by nearly three percent.
Research from online college enrollment guide BestCollege showed that students navigating the virtual learning environment often grapple with depression, lack of motivation and, in some cases, a technological divide that impedes their ability to advance in their studies.
Support Vital to Counter Isolation
Without a support network, out-of-state and international students often experience the greatest difficulty.
In situations when school campuses have reopened, students have faced disciplinary action for breaking social distancing orders. Some undergraduates, however, like Lydia Melka, said they’ve appreciated the safety precautions school campus officials have taken during this academic year.
Melka, a freshman at The George Washington University, moved on campus in January after spending her first semester as a college student at home.
Though she stays in her dorm most of the time and attends class through a video-conferencing platform, Melka said she and the other students in her honors cohort converse through the online chat feature and practice social distancing while studying.
However, establishing new contacts, especially with professors in larger classes and university officials, has been cumbersome for Melka.
“In terms of strangers, there’s a bureaucracy at GW, so [if not for COVID-19] it would be a lot easier to walk into a class,” said Melka, a native of the Atlanta, Ga. metropolitan region.
“If I’m not in a professor’s office or I don’t have a relationship with them, it’s harder to get in touch with them, she added.
“I don’t blame them. My inbox is full every day, so it’s hard to connect with people that you don’t already know.”
Social Media Presence Overshadows Racial Isolation
Several miles away in Cambridge, Mass., RuQuan Brown said, despite the isolation, he relishes the opportunities that have arisen since starting his virtual learning experience on the campus of Harvard University.
Brown, a student-athlete and D.C. Public Schools graduate, moved to campus last fall after undergoing knee surgery to address ACL damage. Since then, he and his teammates on the football team have been on the field, socially distanced and wearing masks, conditioning their bodies and practicing plays.
Due to COVID-19 regulations, only 10 players at a time have been allowed in the locker room, gym and other common areas, which Brown said has hindered camaraderie among teammates. Additionally, reports of a COVID-19 case earlier this month ceased all athletic activity for a week.
Even so, Brown told The Informer that should the university return to normal instruction, he would like to explore the possibility of continuing virtual learning, as it has better allowed him to manage his time and tend to matters outside of school and football.
Those responsibilities include Love 1 Biz, a clothing company Brown started two years ago in promotion of nonviolence.
Despite the lack of face-to-face interactions, Brown said he has been able to pour his efforts into maintaining a social media presence and avoiding the pitfalls of being a young Black man at a predominantly white university.
“It’s harder to build my social media platforms and business, but I also save time from transitioning from class,” Brown told The Informer.
“I use that time resting, reading, and talking to family,” he added.
“If I could still take my class online [after the pandemic], I would. Racism is still very prevalent on campus, and I feel like an alien as a Black athletic guy with locs. With virtual learning, I get to avoid those interactions. Overall, I’m grateful.”