On March 13, the University of Montevallo announced it was temporarily closing its doors in the wake of the continued spread of COVID-19.
The announcement was both shocking and unsurprising.
For months it seemed to many that the virus was far from the U.S. Across the ocean and on the other side of the world, it seemed like a distant danger until it ultimately wasn’t. In the blink of an eye the novel coronavirus spread throughout Europe, finding its way to the US.
As schools across the country closed state by state, across the South and across the state of Alabama. What at one-point seemed like it wouldn’t touch UM was now sending students away from the University many called home.
We learned that we’re living in notable times: a pandemic, the first the world has seen since the Spanish influenza in 1918.
As students, faculty and staff struggled with that reality, we wrestled with the confusion that came with it. The day UM announced it was closing even the weather seemed to share students’ sentiments, torn between alternating sunshine and rain, it seemed to mirror students doubts, questions and hunger for explanation. The University had made the right decision, but what would it mean for students?
It was no doubt a hard decision for the administration to make. It came down to overwhelming expert advice, which expounded the importance of social distancing as a tool to combat the spread of the virus.
UM President John Stewart III stated that the decision was pretty clear: “Our number one priority is to protect the health and safety of our students and campus family.”
The University had been working hard to plan contingencies to address most of those questions. Plans were made to accommodate students who were unable to return home for various reasons. This was especially important for students like Emma Perrier, an international student from Grenoble, France.
Perrier is currently unable to return to France, where the COVID-19 outbreak has led to quarantines across the country. According to Perrier, who is in correspondence with friends and family back home, no one is allowed outside unless it’s for groceries or necessary travel. Citizens can face a fine if caught outside without a legitimate reason.
The worst-case scenarios are students like Perrier, unable to return to their home country, or even their home state. But there are also students who if they return home could be exposed to unstable, or even dangerous home lives, as well as those from rural areas who would not have internet access to complete their online classes. For this reason, the University is considering requests to stay on campus on a “case by case” basis.
The COVID-19 outbreak has also affected the living conditions of students who don’t stay on campus but are Montevallo residents.
Senior Jessica Thrasher lives off campus, so fortunately she didn’t have to scramble to make living arrangements. However, Thrasher has been told not to come in to her paid internship, and fears her campus job working with K-12 students will be inactive due to grade schools closing.
What’s more, Thrasher’s three roommates are all servers who are currently out of work until further notice. Thrasher says they are going to see if their landlord will postpone rent payments, or if they can get some of their bills postponed.
Luckily for many students, the University has made plans to continue paying students for most work study and jobship positions, so that students don’t lose income they may be dependent on
According to Stewart, SGA President Olivia Elridge did a “fantastic job” convincing the senior management team that students would suffer otherwise.
Even with these accommodations, many students are still unclear what the future will hold. While classes are going online, fine arts students like sophomore theatre major Joy Hill are worried about their classes’ capacity to transfer to an online setting.
“We can’t just turn in a paper or do online busy work to learn and succeed in our field,” Hill said. “I have dance classes and acting classes and there is no way for me to actually learn what I need over a computer.”
Despite these concerns, Hill says the faculty in the department has been “amazing” in keeping students updated and encouraged.
“Honestly, the faculty and theatre department students are the only thing positive and consistent in this COVID-19 situation, and that’s exactly what I need.”
Mykayla Harrison is a senior, track and field athlete whose season was cut short due to the virus spread. For her and many other students like her, leaving UM has been “heartbreaking.”
“It hurts to know that things we looked forward to and things we’ve had planned for months, had to come to an end so abruptly,” said Harrison
Seniors like Harrison also worry about what will happen with graduation.
President Stewart stated that news about spring commencement will come as news and CDC advice on the virus continues to evolve.
Though traditional commencement on Flowerhill seems more and more unlikely, Stewart and the UM administration are dedicated to providing a spring commencement ceremony that is just as “moving” as it normally is, but “would have to think twice before putting 4500 people side by side.”
No one can be certain what the future will hold, at least not at the moment. The University has said that the decision on whether or not students will return for the rest semester will be made the week of April 6.
But with neighboring states such as Georgia announcing the closing of the 26 universities, opting to finish their semesters online, it’s becoming more and more possible that on site classes won’t resume this semester.
As Harrison puts it, ultimately the best we can do is to keep ourselves and our classmates positive.
“It is important to uplift those that may be discouraged about having parts of their lives stripped away.”
This article was edited from its original version. A previous version of this article implied that jobships were federally funded. This is inaccurate as they are funded by the University of Montevallo.
Caleb Jones is a graduate of the University of Montevallo. He has a major in Communication Studies, and minored in Multimedia Journalism and Spanish. He is a former news beat reporter with The Alabamian, and plans on pursuing a career in investigative reporting after graduation. Have a tip? You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org