VCU Students Grapple With Online Classes and 'Inevitable' Recession

A student walks past a mural in the library at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

By Arianna Coghill

March 19, 2020

One of Virginia’s largest universities, Virginia Commonwealth University, has officially canceled in-person classes for the rest of the semester and moved graduation celebrations to December.

VCU made the announcement on Wednesday in the wake of the novel coronavirus epidemic, after first telling students to extend their spring break and not return to campus last week.

An email to students said all 2020 graduates would be honored at a commencement ceremony on December 12. The university will be issuing credits or refunds for housing and dining for the semester, and on-campus student housing will be restricted to international students who cannot return home, or students who would otherwise be homeless without the campus housing.

Classes at VCU for this semester are scheduled to start on March 23 and will be taught online through the use of services like Blackboard, videoconferencing and online programs.

The switch from in-person lectures to online learning isn’t as easy as it may seem. While it may work for certain majors, online classes aren’t a great alternative for others. Even before classes have officially begun, students are already running into issues with the transition.

Twenty two year-old Justine Gonzalez is a biology major that says the virtual classroom isn’t necessarily the best personal alternative to in-person study. 

“In my organic chemistry class, we work in groups,” Gonzalez said in an interview.  “Usually, it’s the best way to learn the material, but with it being online we practically have to teach ourselves.”

Science majors often require in-person labs that give students hands-on experience with the techniques and equipment they need to learn.

“So now with that being online, it’s harder to learn because we aren’t doing it ourselves. We have to watch our teachers do it,” said Gonzalez.

It’s not just science students who might have trouble online. VCU senior Machie Dunzo, a humanities major, says most of her classes require research that required time at the library, which is now closed. In the past she’s found that nearly all of her classes are harder to attend and participate in online.

“It’s been difficult figuring out how to motivate myself without being in class in person. I’ve never been the type to work well online so it’s going to be a struggle to keep up,” said Dunzo, “I’m going to have to though because I paid for this degree.”

Twenty two year-old VCU student Sahuur Osman said she was filled with anxiety when she heard the news of the outbreak and VCU’s subsequent closing.

“I work at a busy grocery store, so the announcement of the outbreak has been scary and unpredictable,” said Osman, who works at a local Trader Joe’s. “I was scared of shelves being empty, restaurants being closed. All my roommates basically moved out except for one.”

The economic backlash has not gone unnoticed by university students, especially those who graduate in May. Major portions of the U.S. economy have shut down in a matter of days, and a recession is likely on the horizon. For those who have to enter the job market in the near future, the state of the country’s economy can be disheartening.

“There’s a lot of talk about another recession and at this point it feels inevitable. I think it’s going to be extremely difficult for me to find a job after college,” said Osman, who’s scheduled to graduate this May. 

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