students at home covid-19

Alyssa Pearson finds that every time she’s in one of her Zoom classes, one of her family members peeks around the door, asks her about what she is doing and attempts to carry a lengthy conversation.

The 21-year-old UF digital arts and science junior said she used to only visit her middle school bedroom littered with stuffed animals during vacations. Now, she’s there all the time.

“I feel more distracted here than I do on campus,” Pearson said. 

Pearson was one of the 3,568 students who made the decision to cancel their on-campus housing contract for the 2020-2021 academic year. This year saw about 1,000 more on-campus housing cancellations than most years following the university’s decision to make most classes fully online, wrote UF Student Affairs Director Sara Tanner 

Pearson had plans to be a resident assistant in Beaty Towers this Fall, but she ultimately decided to resign for her health and safety. The prospect of coming into contact with every individual going in and out of the building seemed dangerous. 

RAs frequently have to be on call and respond to emergencies in person, which became an added risk, she said.

“I understand why it's necessary because if there is an emergency, you can’t just handle it over the phone sometimes, but I just didn’t necessarily feel comfortable in that position,” Pearson said.

Though she feels safer at her home in St. Augustine, Pearson said she experienced technical challenges over the Summer when her laptop was not fully equipped to complete the assignments necessary for her 3D animation course. Upgrading her computer would have been too expensive.

“It’s kind of frustrating, and it’s even more isolating when you are the only person you feel like is going through these issues, and you can’t even meet with your professor,” Pearson said.

Pearson is not the only student who feels that their online classes are more difficult from home.

Alexandra Vitiello, a 19-year-old UF biology sophomore, currently resides at home with her parents and two dogs, far away from the quiet campus. Vitiello said now that the professors know that they won’t be switching to an alternative format in the middle of the semester, she feels they are taking advantage of the situation by giving more work.

“They are making their lectures longer, or more lectures, and I’m just having a hard time keeping up with that in general,” Vitiello said. 

Vitiello decided to stay home primarily because she is able to work more hours with her job at Publix in Pembroke Pines than at the Publix she normally works at in Gainesville. However, she plans to move back into her dorm room in the on-campus Keys Complex next semester with her two best friends.

“They do things like have Disney movie nights and good food,” she said. “I don’t want to miss that.”

Though she appreciates sleeping in a bigger bed at night and eating home-cooked meals, Vitiello said she misses some of the responsibilities that living away from home offers.

“It is what it is, I chose to stay home, so that’s what I’m stuck with,” Vitiello said. “But I would love to have my own space again, because living on your own is fun and a learning experience, and I don’t feel as independent at home.”

However, not every student is planning a return to UF in the Spring.

Emily Jones, a 19-year-old UF microbiology sophomore, said she witnessed her mom and stepdad suffer through severe symptoms of COVID-19 after contracting it over the summer. Her stepdad was admitted to the AdventHealth DeLand hospital at one point due to breathing complications.

Jones spent most of the summer months confined to her room. After her mom became infected with COVID-19, Jones communicated with her primarily through text messaging, despite being in the same house. 

 “It was just really stressful, and I felt kind of helpless during this because there’s nothing you can really do,” Jones said. 

Jones believes it is a part of her responsibility to stay home because it keeps others safe and it is the best way for her to stay socially distanced. She also did not trust UF’s reopening plan given that COVID-19 rates soared across Florida over the summer.

“I feel like now we’re learning to live with COVID, rather than trying to combat it,” she said.