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College During Covid: Life on Campus as a Red-State Student



The author (second from right) and some of his fraternity brothers on September 17 after a pledge-pinning ceremony in front of their fraternity house in Lincoln, Nebraska

The Insider:

Hi Robert. Thanks for talking with us! A few background questions to start with. How old are you?


Robert Osborne:

20 years old.


The Insider:

And which school are you attending?


Robert Osborne:

University of Nebraska Lincoln .


The Insider:

Did you grow up in Nebraska?


Robert Osborne:

I grew in Omaha, not more than about 40 miles from Lincoln.


The Insider:

What is your major?


Robert Osborne:

Currently my major is Russian language with a minor in physics and architecture.


The Insider:

And what year of school are you in?


Robert Osborne:

Junior this year.


The Insider:

When did this semester begin?


Robert Osborne:

We began around the middle of August, and are now in the seventh week of classes.


The Insider:

Before this year, were you going to school remotely?


Robert Osborne:

The entirety of my sophomore year was remote, except for an architectural drawing class during the first semester. My major for sophomore year was fully architecture, with Russian minor.


The Insider:

Help me understand what “remote” really meant. That means the whole semester, you never went in-person?


Robert Osborne:

Remote classes were held on Zoom, like Skype, and consisted of the professor lecturing then putting us into breakout rooms of a few people to talk or do work. Impersonal and more on the lines of learning from YouTube videos. Never in person, but the drawing class was held outdoors on-campus.


The Insider:

How many professors did you have altogether last year whom you never saw in person?


Robert Osborne:

At least six.


The Insider:

And roughly, how many students on average were there in each class?


Robert Osborne:

Average 20-25 per class, none of them I ever saw or met in person, besides the Russian students whom I've been with since freshman year..


The Insider:

Did you feel like any or all of the professors knew who you were individually?


Robert Osborne:

Perhaps only by name while grading assignments.


The Insider:

Were you able to ask questions in class?


Robert Osborne:

Yes, through the action of unmuting yourself


The Insider:

By the end of the class, had you learned who some of the other students were?


Robert Osborne:

In breakout rooms it was possible to meet the other students. Working on projects together helped.


The Insider:

How satisfactory was the whole arrangement to you?


Robert Osborne:

For course work like architecture that prefers hands-on and face-to-face contact, very unsatisfactory. Same with learning Russian.


The Insider:

That’s understandable. Did you attend all of the classes, or did you start to skip them?


Robert Osborne:

I wanted to start skipping but attending was one of few things that made you feel you were doing something..


The Insider:

Were your grades affected? Were they the same as your first year at school?


Robert Osborne:

My grades were affected, but enough to keep at least a 3.0 GPA and my scholarship. Compared to my freshman year, they would be considered an anomaly.


The author (bottom row) and the other members of his fraternity chapter at the University of Nebraska

The Insider:

Were your grades higher your first year?


Robert Osborne:

I believe it was at least a 3.5.


The Insider:

Did you become lasting friends with any of the other students in your classes?


Robert Osborne:

Those from my Russian classes I still have in class and see. As with those from freshman year dorms.


The Insider:

Otherwise, was it too distant to encourage friendships from developing?


Robert Osborne:

The online environment is too disconnected to feel motivation to do so..

The Insider:

Where were you living last year? At home or at school?


Robert Osborne:

I was living at my house off campus a half mile with five roommates, who are in my fraternity.


The Insider:

Were they also going to school remotely during that time?


Robert Osborne:

Almost everyone here was. The one guy who is an Education major had some in-persons.


The Insider:

What was the group impression of remote learning? Thumbs up or thumbs down?


Robert Osborne:

Thumbs down, we all suffered in grades and socially, and resorting to online help during online quizzes was common theme amongst the student body.


The Insider:

Not sure what you mean by online help.


Robert Osborne:

Things that may be considered academic dishonesty by some.


The Insider:

How did you and your roommates stay safe from Covid before vaccinations?


Robert Osborne:

Most of us never went on campus and didn't have that concern, and few of us worked. So masks and hand sanitizer.


The Insider:

Did you get tested regularly?


Robert Osborne:

The university required testing at several points.


The Insider:

Did any of you ever get Covid?


Robert Osborne:

We did, all but two of us at the house. I was one who had it .


The Insider:

When?


Robert Osborne:

After Halloween.


The Insider:

How long were you sick?


Robert Osborne:

There weren't many symptoms, but I was in isolation in my room or outside for the 11 days.


The Insider:

What symptoms were there? Did you take any medicine?


Robert Osborne:

I had a temperature for a day or two, but never needed medicine besides Tylenol. I recall the vaccine being more miserable


The Insider:

At some schools, there were protests that tuition was not reduced because of remote classes. Did that happen at Nebraska?


Robert Osborne:

I think it stayed the same, I have a full tuition scholarship and thankfully did not have to worry. They did refund some housing and food for the end of my freshman year.


The Insider:

Your family must have been very worried when you had Covid..


Robert Osborne:

It was their main concern and I had to assure them I was alright.


The Insider:

When did you get vaccinated?


Robert Osborne:

In April during the vaccination drive in Lancaster County and most of Nebraska.


The Insider:

You live in a very red state politically. Is the vaccination rate low?


Robert Osborne:

Most of the student body has had the vaccine, as well as staff. If I remember Lancaster Country­– Lincoln–has a good percentage, but I may not be accurate.


The Insider:

One more question about this summer, then we’ll move on to this semester. Were you or your friends able to work during the summer, or was that hard because of Covid?


Robert Osborne:

Pretty much after the vaccine drive Nebraska opened right up for the summer. I've been working part-time since January, and the summer was no-masks..


The Insider:

What kind of work?


Robert Osborne:

Was cashier work till June, and now delivering pizzas. Sunday school was online and we didn't have to worry, this term is in person with masks.


The Insider:

And do you think that Nebraska is careful enough?


Robert Osborne:

Nebraska isn't too careful, but there is a new mask mandate in Lancaster County. A lot of Covid fatigue and lack of guidance from last year.


The Insider:

Do you mean Covid fatigue and lack of political guidance?


Robert Osborne:

Yes, politically–mandates, vaccines. The Lancaster County Health Department has done most of the visible work.


The Insider:

Are you teaching at Sunday school?


Robert Osborne:

Yes, fourth grade.


Back to Classes:: the University of Nebraska-Lincoln City Campus

The Insider:

What did it feel like to come back to school in person seven weeks ago?


Robert Osborne:

It was unusual, probably closer to someone who comes back to college 20 years after being out of it.


The Insider:

In what way?


Robert Osborne:

Getting adjusted to being around my peers and having a normal work load. Getting dressed and ready for class even.


The Insider:

Like Rip Van Winkle!


Robert Osborne:

Exactly! Coming out a malaise.


The Insider:

What’s the etiquette in classes now? Everyone in masks?


Robert Osborne:

Masks for everyone, That started the second week, and regular testing if you’re not vaccinated..


The Insider:

What percentage of the student body is vaccinated?


Robert Osborne:

Recent report is 81% of faculty and 69% of students.


The Insider:

69% seems very low. One out of three students is not vaccinated. That’s risky!


Robert Osborne:

It's not fantastic, but it's why they require active testing and negative tests to get into buildings..

The Insider:

Have there been anti-vaxx demonstrations on campus?


Robert Osborne:

Haven't witnessed any but there has been a small scale one or two at the capital.


The Insider:

Are any of your friends unvaccinated?


Robert Osborne:

Only one that I know of.


The Insider:

How is his life affected by it? Will you get together with him?


Robert Osborne:

I live with him, but it doesn't seem to affect them differently than anyone else. Only people pressure him at times to get the vaccine.


The Insider:

And why does he say he’s not getting it?


Robert Osborne:

He's not opposed to it morally, only doesn't take the time to.


The Insider:

Just a few more questions. Are classes socially distanced or back to normal?


Robert Osborne:

Normal but for the masks, in which case some professors remove temporarily se we can see their mouths, like for Russian. So there's still the level of anonymity where preferably there shouldn't be.


The Insider:

I’m curious about students’ social lives. Are they greatly impacted by the pandemic? Do people go out on dates? To parties? To the movies?


Robert Osborne:

If you're 21, the bar scene is strong. Fraternities are still throwing parties, and were throughout last year. The parties kept social ties alive--our sort of speakeasies.


The Insider:

What’s the Covid rate like on campus?


Robert Osborne:

1.5% positivity last week, 1% this week.


The Insider:

Last question--do you worry about getting Covid again?


Robert Osborne:

I'm worried that if I get it I will have to isolate again. There will be nothing that compares to that feeling of solitary, especially bound to only a room. Being imprisoned at your own home.


The Insider:

Do you know other people who have gotten sick or died from it? Other than your roommates, of course.


Robert Osborne:

I do not know anyone that has died from it, but I know those who have gotten it. They are there, but to keep the healthy ones from being sick is a tightrope.


The Insider:

Oops! I should have asked you a question or two about your vaccination. What kind dd you have?


Robert Osborne:

I got Pfizer.


The Insider:

And you got bad side effects?


Robert Osborne:

Fever, chills, and a headache for about three days


The Insider:

That. Is bad. Was that both times., or only once?


Robert Osborne:

Second dose.


The Insider:

I’ll be having a booster shot soon. Have to admit that I’m more nervous than the first two times.


Robert Osborne:

Still preferred to isolating for 11 days..


The Insider:

Great place to end. Talk care and stay in touch!! Many thanks!


Robert Osborne:

Thank you much for this opportunity. Anytime!


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