NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – As a new semester begins, returning students at Tennessee State University say they are glad to be back, despite challenges they faced last semester trying to live on campus amid the pandemic.
Residence halls opened Jan. 21 for new and returning students. Classes are offered in hybrid, online and in face-to-face formats, including distance learning. Students have the choice of staying home and taking classes online at a discounted tuition rate, but many have instead selected to live on campus, stay in their door rooms, and complete their courses online without the discount.
One of them is junior information systems major Jeia Moore of Memphis, Tennessee, who sees campus life as the essence of going to college and won’t trade it for anything. Besides, Moore says, TSU is providing an “atmosphere that makes us very safe.”
“It’s a little bit different, because you know, we have to wear a mask, social distance and everything,” says Moore. “We are limited in some ways in how we move around, so it’s a little bit different, but I understand that they’re doing it to keep us safe, and I rather be here than at home.”
Moore is not alone. In interviews to gauge returning students’ experience about living on campus during the pandemic, and why many chose campus life over home, many say it’s “a missed opportunity” not to experience what a college campus offers. For the spring semester, about 1,600 students, including returning and new students are living on campus, that’s about 50 percent of full occupancy.
“I just feel like you only get four years of college and you better make the best use of that experience, even during the pandemic,” says Danielle Glenn, a junior criminal justice major from Atlanta. “I feel like campus is safe. The university is taking all precautions that need to be taken to make sure everyone is safe. Temperature checks, quarantines, having a place for students to go if they test positive. All of my classes are online. So even when I go on campus to get food or go to the post office, everyone is wearing a mask and there are stickers to keep everyone distant.”
A TSU expert on social behavior says that students’ preference to stay on campus even during a pandemic “could be due to many factors.”
“Their identity as a student is tied to being on campus. Their reference groups – other students and faculty – are on campus and close contact with them is important for their success,” says Dr. Oscar Miller, professor and chair of the Department of Sociology. “Being a college student is being a member of a select group of people who have achieved an important rite of passage. To a large measure what that means to a student is engaging the campus experience as an independent adult. For some, assuming the role of a student may require getting away from their home environment.”
TSU officials say students’ optimism about campus life that makes them want to come back even during the pandemic is rooted in the campus preparation they saw and experienced last semester. For instance, the university is continuing a comprehensive plan put in place last semester, which includes a 14-day “safer in place” policy for all residence halls. The policy requires students to stay in their places of residence unless they need to perform essential activities, such as getting food, or going to medical appointments. Last semester, of all Tennessee colleges, TSU reported one of the lowest COVID-19 cases, with mostly mild to no symptoms and no hospitalization.
Dr. Curtis Johnson, associate vice president and chief of staff, leads the university’s COVID taskforce. He says students want to come back because the university has “gone to great lengths” to be as accommodating as possible.
“Creating a campus environment that is welcoming to the students and that provides opportunities for them to interact in the safest way possible are what we strive for every day,” says Johnson.
Frank Stevenson, associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students, says “the university is very intentional” about creating a home environment for the students that makes them want to come back.
“For many students, TSU becomes their home. When they go home, they are visitors,” says Stevenson. “They know that we’re going to be there to support them. This is their village, so knowing that they have that TSU village of RAs, hall directors and others surrounding them, they know they are home.”
Damien Antwine, one of the returning students interviewed, agrees. He says coming from a neighborhood with drugs and other distractions, he “definitely” didn’t want to stay home.
“It definitely helped a lot that campus was open, where I could be with people who are there to help me succeed,” says Antwine, a junior agricultural science major from Memphis, who also has a job in Nashville. “Teachers were accommodating. It was a great experience.”
Terrance Izzard, TSU associate vice president for admissions and recruitment, says that the university’s goal is to let returning and new students know that their safety and wellbeing remain a major priority.
“Our ultimate goal is that we get through this together and that students understand their social responsibility, as well as the university’s commitment to safety,” says Izzard.
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Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a premier, historically black university and land-grant institution offering 39 bachelor’s degree programs, 24 master’s degree programs, and eight doctoral degrees. TSU is a comprehensive research intensive institution with a R-2 Carnegie designation, and has a graduate school on its downtown Avon Williams Campus, along with the Otis Floyd Nursery Research Center in McMinnville, Tennessee. With a commitment to excellence, Tennessee State University provides students with a quality education in a nurturing and innovative environment that prepares them as alumni to be global leaders in every facet of society. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.