By Emily Cousins | Staff Writer
From COVID-19 to a hectic election season, Baylor students have not had a normal semester. Students had to adjust to COVID-19 protocols and a different type of class schedule while juggling life.
Associate Vice President for Student Life Dr. Sharra Hynes said she is proud of how students handled this semester.
“I think our students have done a phenomenal job of managing life at Baylor during a pandemic,” Hynes said. “I mean, we weren’t perfect. We had examples of students who didn’t make the best choices of course, but on the balance, students did so well. It makes me excited for the spring. I don’t dread the spring. I’m excited for students to come back, and I’m excited to continue to find ways of being together safely.”
Something that was missing this semester was more chances to gather safely on campus, Sierra Vista, Ariz., junior and student government External Vice President Gracie Kelliher said.
“I am hopeful now that we know a little bit more about what we’re dealing with, some more events for students will happen — whether that’s even just virtual events or things on Fountain Mall,” Kelliher said. “I think Baylor has done a great job of working with what we have, but I think that those are crucial to the student experience and just providing students structured things to do on campus will limit a lot of the potential unstructured things off campus.”
Hynes said she is hopeful for more activity on campus during the spring semester.
“I’m a big advocate for as much activity as we can allow on the campus,” Hynes said. “I want to allow it because I think it gives students a sense of belonging and a sense of community. I’m hoping we will have more of that in the spring, but we will only be able to have that if the cases stay under control.”
Dr. Randal Boldt, senior associate director, training director and supervising psychologist at the Baylor Counseling Center, said students this semester were struggling with isolation, and that engaging in activities with other people can improve mental health.
“Students were experiencing a lot more stress just from daily living and daily activities,” Boldt said. “I think they often were experiencing a greater sense of isolation and feeling confined and having difficulty engaging and making connections with other people, or if they’re freshmen, difficulty making new connections on campus … I’d also say that some students have been touched personally by the pandemic, with family members being sick or their financial situations being directly impacted. Both of those things add quite a burden to students that are trying to make it to classes and be successful here.”
Boerne senior and Student Body President Sutton Houser said one of his goals was to make mental health a priority this semester through Mental Health Week earlier in the fall semester, and he looks forward to the next mental health week in the spring semester.
“That conversation isn’t going anywhere,” Houser said. “We’re still in a pandemic, we’re still feeling isolated and we’re still having trouble really building that community, so we need to work on our mental health and provide those resources for students.”
Even through the stress and adjustment to classes, Kelliher said she is grateful Baylor made it all the way to Thanksgiving successfully.
“I think that really speaks to Baylor’s leadership and also its students,” Kelliher said. “Of course, you’re always going to have downfalls, especially in such uncharted territory, but it just really speaks to the quality of people that Baylor possesses, and the administration has worked really hard. That’s been super cool and humbling to see is this how adults care for students. It’s hard to feel that all the time, but I think we’re in such a unique opportunity to be able to interact with them and just realize that admin and faculty just care about students so much, and I love Baylor all the more for that.”
Houser said he hopes students can continue to follow the protocols next semester despite COVID-19 fatigue.
“We need to comply with the COVID procedures that are working,” Houser said. “We know we can keep those positivity rates low and COVID cases low, but how do we make sure our students are working with us and going along the same guidelines? We have to make sure that we do a better job of keeping students safe and make sure classes are safe but also helping keep students wanting to do this and being willing to all be in this together.”
Houser said it’s an accomplishment in itself that students made it to Thanksgiving break.
“I know we had to be adaptive in how we worked and how we reached out and how we make sure we’re communicating,” Houser said. “As we look back on this semester, I think it’s clear that we’re exhausted. We’ve all worked super hard, and we’ve all had to sacrifice or give up stuff or things have just been different and or difficult. I think this break will be good for many of us.”