Episode 86: Back to class!

In this episode, we talk to students and faculty about how they’re feeling about returning to mostly in-person classes next semester. We hear what people are going to miss about remote-learning, and the things they can’t wait to finally do in class. We also speak with a professor at the Hubbard School of Journalism about how he’s going to adjust come next fall.

by Ava Kian and Yoko Vue

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AVA KIAN: Hey everyone, I’m Ava Kian.

YOKO VUE: I’m Yoko Vue. And you’re listening to “In the Know,” a podcast by the Minnesota Daily.

KIAN: The University of Minnesota announced on March 12 that students will be returning to in-person classes for the fall semester on all five campuses. Following health guidelines, the university will still require everyone to wear masks and socially distance, as well as continue to provide access for COVID testing. 

VUE: Students have expressed different feelings about returning to campus; some are excited to return while others have fully adapted to online learning. I spoke with electrical engineering student Amethyst O’Connell about what virtual learning has been like for them and what they’re looking forward to with in-person classes. 

AMETHYST O’CONNELL: Virtual learning for me has been pretty gross. I have multiple disabilities that make it hard to learn virtually. I have autism, I have ADHD, and I have chronic migraines, which means that I don’t have executive functioning in normal times. 

VUE: One way that they have adapted is to have hobbies that don’t revolve around a screen. 

O’CONNELL: If I stare at the screen too long, I’m going to get a migraine, right. It used to be like the inverse — all my work was in-person, all of my hobbies were online. I had to flip that. I needed to get things that I could do that didn’t involve staring at a screen, like in-person stuff. So, I started cooking more but I also bought some musical instruments and I basically flip those two spaces so that I wouldn’t be constantly in pain.

VUE: Although Amethyst said in-person learning will be more beneficial for them, they are concerned about the physical exhaustion of navigating campus.

O’CONNELL: Like, I know that it will be better for me because I will be able to actually like focus, but in some respects it will be worse for me because again my joints are going to hate me for it.

I got rheumatologist tested for Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which is commonly comorbid with autism and they were like, “No, you can’t bend your joints enough to have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome,” but I have some sort of something and so moving physically on this campus is a pain. That’s gonna be a mess. I took off work for a while, kind of because of that and I’m returning to work and it’s kind of like “Ooh, my body does not like to actually move.”

VUE: Amethyst said that they hope professors will continue to be understanding of students as they adjust this fall.

O’CONNELL: I feel like to a certain extent, professors have been better about accommodating my disability during these times because of the collective trauma of everyone having to deal with this global pandemic.

Like I kind of wonder, are we going to keep any of the good things from the pandemic? You know, like, are professors maybe going to be more chill about deadlines? Probably not, but I really hope they are.

Continuing to maintain some of their chiller policies like taking late homework and that sort of thing, you know while people get situated again because it’s not like we’re bouncing back and we’re immediately like, “Yes, we’re great.”

VUE: Amethyst said that while wearing masks when you’re sick is common among Asian countries, it should be something to continue here as well. 

O’CONNELL: I really hope we continue to wear masks when we’re sick, but really I hope that people stay home when they’re sick. And I hope that we have an institution and a structure that allows people to stay home when they’re sick.


VUE: I also spoke with a sociology student who will remain anonymous throughout this story. The student, who is Asian, said she is afraid of being identified due to concerns about rising anti-Asian hate crimes. 

STUDENT: It’s been stressful to say the least. Learning online is a lot more rigorous personally than learning in person. I mean, I’ve adapted to online learning, but you know, kind of still missing that in person face-to-face element. 

VUE: She said that the pandemic has definitely changed her career path. While she was originally on the pre-med track, she wants to pursue a career in racial justice and advocacy work.

STUDENT: I originally was pre-med but… And when talking about like diversity, equity and inclusion, we’re like past the D we need to get to the E and the I; so I think it’s like doing that kind of work.

VUE: Her ideal return to campus includes fewer students in classrooms and for everyone to keep following safety guidelines. A resource that has helped her during the pandemic is the Asian Pacific American Resource Center, or APARC. The center focuses on the success of Asian American and Pacific Islander students in college and beyond. 

STUDENT: I’ve used a lot of resources from APARC and I used resources from being within the ASPIRE community. Leaning onto each other when things and times get rough.

VUE: ASPIRE is a peer mentorship program that APARC hosts to help first-year and transfer students transition into college and build community. The center held a processing space in collaboration with the Asian American Student Union a few days after the Atlanta-area shootings that killed eight people, six of them being Asian women.

STUDENT: I think I felt very safe. I felt very heard.

You know, each of us shared our sentiments and I think it’s what has kept me going. Even though it’s exhausting and everyone’s tired, to say the least, like words cannot do much at this time and we don’t need words anymore. You know, we need action. 

VUE: With the rise of hate crimes against Asian Americans and the police killing of Daunte Wright, she said she’s nervous to be back on campus and going to events with primarily white attendees. 

STUDENT: I am definitely very on edge, you know, about going back because what has happened I don’t think unfortunately will be the end… personally being a woman and being a person of color, I think I have to be more cautious than I was before.  

VUE: She said that spaces such as the event held by APARC and ASU are needed and should continue. 


KIAN: Another student, Ashley Tilke, who is set to graduate next fall, talked to us about her online learning experience and how she’s feeling about returning to in-person classes. She said she’s been enjoying online learning because online courses let her do things at her convenience. 

ASHLEY TILKE: I’m definitely like a student that can run my own schedule, and it just works better for me to be able to do things at any time of day.

KIAN: Ashley said she struggled with time management during the pandemic, especially issues of procrastination. Because of this, she pushed her graduation back by a semester. 

TILKE: Some of the struggles of being online, it allows you to really make your own schedule, which I enjoy, but also when I’m going through my own things, I’m very lenient with my schedule. So, then I, you know, I don’t do my homework when I should and things like that, so a combination of all those things has kind of pushed my graduation, it’s what has led me to push my graduation date back. 

KIAN: In some of her classes, she connected with other peers using group chats.

TILKE: It’s not like we really talk every day or anything, but when we do talk, it’s like we can have lighthearted conversation too, and make jokes about the class and stuff. So in that way, it’s a little bit refreshing versus just sitting in front of a computer. 

KIAN: She says she doesn’t feel like she’s missing out on the in-class experience.

TILKE: I think I’m missing more, just being able to be on campus in general and like go to a dining hall or go to restaurants around campus or just see people walking around on campus.

I think we all miss it, even with, you know, some of the hardships that come with the way we were doing things before, I’d give anything to go back to some sense of normal life.

I’m in the U’s anime club and stuff. So also for me, it would be really, really amazing if we could go back to having in-person meetings because I miss seeing them, and we all stay connected like through Discord. That’s how we’re doing everything now. But, you know, I want to see their faces and watch things with them and stuff.


KIAN: Scott Libin, a journalism educator at the U, is also excited about seeing his students and other faculty members. 

SCOTT LIBIN: I miss the hallway conversations, the mailroom conversations, the unscheduled interaction with colleagues. It’s great to be able to just sit down in somebody’s office and talk face-to-face for 15 minutes, and I think all of us look forward to that. 

KIAN: One of the courses Libin teaches is a broadcast news class. Because of the hands-on and equipment-focused aspect of the course, he tried to meet once a week in person and once a week online this semester. So while he wasn’t completely isolated from in-person teaching, he hasn’t done it full-time since before the pandemic hit. 

LIBIN: I will say that teaching full-time in person is a different challenge. You know, you have to really, I think we owe it to our students to be at the top of our game for every class session and to be prepared

I’ll be a little rusty, but I guess I’m glad that I’ve continued to do some in-person teaching because I haven’t set those skills aside entirely, but again, to do something every day is different from doing it once or twice a week. And so like, anything else, you know, if you haven’t had your bike out since last fall, you don’t forget how to ride it. But it feels a little different the first time or two. And we, you know, we get used to those things.

KIAN: One thing he struggled with during remote teaching was being able to gauge where students were. 

LIBIN: A lot of students leave their cameras off. So you can’t, you get no feedback from them. You can’t read any nonverbal cues, and even with the camera on, it can be difficult. 

It’s hard to know how students are doing when some of them choose just really kind of a minimal level of engagement. And I can tell to some extent how much they’re grasping concepts in the curriculum from the work they do, but that still feels a step or two removed from an actual exchange.

KIAN: He did, however, appreciate some aspects of remote teaching, like the ability to include more guest speakers, have an easy commute, and the increased flexibility for many students. 

LIBIN: I might miss the convenience of commuting to my dining room table. I don’t miss the traffic or the parking, but there’s so much more that I do miss.

I don’t think any of us are going to get nostalgic about the pandemic itself. But I am going to miss clipping down the highway, you know, at 55 or 65 miles an hour, when someday I’m again, sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, whether it be in my car or on a bus. 


MEGAN PALMER: In other news: On Tuesday afternoon, Derek Chauvin was convicted on all three murder and manslaughter charges. It’s been a long week, and a long year for Minneapolis. We will see you next week.

PALMER: Music in today’s episode was provided by Graham Makes and FreeSound.org.