Masks, Sanitizer and Distancing: A ‘Novel’ First Day

by   |   kallweil@bju.edu   |  

University classes began this morning with smiles covered and the lingering scent of hand sanitizer in the air.

“At camp, the staff would say, ‘This is the price of camp in 2020,’ ” said senior mathematics education major Carlos Herrera. “And really, this is the price of an in-class university experience in 2020. It’s something we have to do.”

Though wearing a face covering and often washing your hands, your desk and everything else you touch is inconvenient, as Herrera said, the procedures have been instituted to keep students, faculty and staff healthy and safe for a productive on-campus semester.

Faculty and students alike are learning to adjust.

“I miss my students’ smiles, their whole faces,” said Bible instructor Dr. Dan Olinger. “But behind the masks, the real students are still there. They’re energetic and ready to commit themselves to the semester ahead. And at the same time, they’re empathetic and ready to forgive if we don’t get everything right the first time. They see us all as in this together, and I’m looking forward eagerly to working with them for a successful residential semester.”

Melanie Schell, an instructor in the School of Health Professions, has had first-hand experience with the novel coronavirus. Her husband contracted the virus last spring (read the Schells’ story on BJUtoday). “So far, I have been very impressed with the students’ level of cooperation with the health protocols,” she said. “They seem like they are certainly willing to do whatever it takes to have in-person classes. And we are certainly happy to see them back on campus — masks and all!

“Teaching to students with masks is going to be very different. It’s hard to judge their level of engagement but we will all hit our stride soon. After a few class periods, it won’t seem so odd. I’m looking forward to conducting some of my classes using Microsoft Teams so that we can all talk freely and see each other’s faces.”

English faculty Emma Galloway Stephens said she’s learning new ways to read nonverbal communication. “While it’s challenging to not be able to see facial expressions as clearly as before, I’m learning to see how students smile (or express confusion) with their eyes. I will have to train my ears to understand ‘mask speak,’ as I’ve already had a few embarrassing misunderstandings today when I couldn’t quite hear what a student was saying,” she said.

Students are adjusting to living under the new normal. As senior Will Barton said, “At first (there) was kind of a hesitation just to figure out how it was going to go, but I think, overall, the acceptance of it has gradually (grown). And so I think people are starting to realize, ‘Hey. This is the new normal.’ And they’re dealing with it a whole lot more than at the beginning of the semester when they were more hesitant and scared.”

Freshman Sophia Hortta said wearing masks “gives a feeling (of a) safe environment,” and sophomore Megan Flower said she thinks that BJU has “done a really good job making all the precautions. I think they’ve done enough to really help people especially with their new Health Services and everything that they’re doing with that.”

Though students and faculty alike have questions and concerns about the semester — Dr. Linda Hayner of the history faculty said her biggest question is “How will I ever get to know all my students if they’re wearing masks?” — overall, the campus community is excited and eager to be together again.

As Kathryn Gamet, chair of the Division of Journalism and Mass Communication, told her students, “It’s an inconvenience for now with the goal of staying here for the semester. … God has never promised to keep us safe, but He has promised to be with us and to sustain us.”

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