The Day in the Life of an SRU Student During the Pandemic

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Student in his dorm room

Joshua Crooks, a Slippery Rock University junior music performance major from Pittsburgh, takes classes online from his residence hall on campus as one of many students balancing participating in both in person and virtual activities at SRU.

April 22, 2021

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — Among Slippery Rock University's 8,100 students, no two are just alike. Along those same lines, it is probably a safe bet to assume that there is no typical day for any of them, particularly in the age of COVID. But that does beg the question, "What is life like for an SRU student during the pandemic?"

For context as it relates to COVID-19 safety measures, fewer than 700 students are living on campus during the spring 2021 semester, compared to pre-pandemic levels of more than 2,800. Approximately 80% of SRU's classes are currently online, but the University is planning to flip these proportions for the fall 2021 semester and offer 80% of its classes in person and house at least 2,300 students in its residence halls.

One student who is currently living on campus and enrolled in a major that presents unique challenges -- for in-person safety and for online collaboration -- was invited to share their day at SRU to provide a glimpse of what on-campus life has been like for them during the pandemic.

Joshua Crooks, a junior music performance major from Pittsburgh, is a community assistant in Building D, so he has a sense of what students are encountering in the residence halls. Also, as a second-year student, with community college credits prior arriving at SRU, he has perspective of what life was like at The Rock previously, what it's like now and what college students are anticipating for the future.

"I was really nervous that I was going to come here and just feel lonely all the time," said Crooks, who struggled making friends his first year. "Last year, I had a couple months when I was feeling depressed, and as soon as I overcame that, we were all sent home because of COVID. So this year, it's almost like a redemption story. Even though there are so many more challenges this year than there were last year, I'm having a really good year."

A good year is made up of good days, so here is Crook's "typical" Monday:

8:50 a.m., WAKE UP
"The best part of having classes on Zoom is the fact that I can get up 10 minutes before class starts and still be on time," Crooks said with a grin.

For online classes, he needn't worry as much about looking like he just rolled out of bed. Crooks said it varies by professors' preference if students use their cameras. For example, if an instructor is presenting slides or other visuals, the students might keep their cameras off.

Crooks at practice

   Crooks rehearses with the SRU Chamber Singers at Swope Music Hall wearing a
   mask specially fitted for singers.

9-9:50 a.m., ONLINE CLASS
Crooks has two online classes on Mondays that meet via Zoom, both of which he "attends" from his room in Building D. The first is Musicianship Skills IV with John Sebastian Vera, instructor of music. Students in this class learn about rhythmic counterpoints, playing intervals and notating melodies. As an example of doing this remotely, they'll identify an A-to-C interval as a minor third from Cochran playing it on a piano, or they'll be assigned to notate music between specific timeframes from a YouTube video.

9:50-11 a.m., BREAK
Crooks steps away from his laptop between classes, to eat, get a shower and prepare anything he needs for the remainder of his day. He said motivation is a big challenge for students taking online classes, so he is intentional about the environmental queues within his room.

"One of the best things I did was the way I laid out my room this year," Crooks said. "My desk is my space for class, my couch is my space for downtime and my bed is my place for sleep. If I were to attend class from my bed, I would never want to do any work. You have to associate where you need to do your work, even within a room."

Although he has noticed students doing work elsewhere on campus, such as on a laptop while lying in a hammock, Crooks said this system works best for him.

11-11:50 a.m., ONLINE CLASS
Next is Music Theory and Analysis IV with Stephan Barr, assistant professor of music, where Crooks learns about music by what he said is "on the page," through analyzing chords, score reading and composition, as well as listening and performance.

Overall, he said online classes present challenges based on the course content, particularly for music classes when students have to hear the melodies, but for classes like Music Theory and Analysis IV, the transition has been smoother. "Last spring it was tough, but now that (our professors) have been figuring out new ways (for presenting) and they've been at it for a while, it's gotten a lot easier," Crooks said.

Noon to 1 p.m., APPLIED LESSONS
Emerging from his residence hall for the first time, Crooks walks to the Swope Music Hall for his applied lesson, which is a one-on-one performance session with a professor required every semester for SRU music majors. In Crooks' case, his instrument is his voice, and his instructor is Christopher Scott, associate professor of music, who conducts weekly hourlong lessons with about a dozen students, half of which are in person.

1-3 p.m., DOWNTIME/CAMPUS ERRANDS
Crooks will visit other buildings on campus if needed -- the University Union to pick up a package from the mailroom or to get a biweekly COVID test that is required for residential students, Bailey Library to print an assignment, and the Smith Student Center to see what's new with student-life opportunities. Campus organizations sometimes have physically-distanced activities to engage students. For example, earlier this semester Crooks picked up a 100-piece puzzle that he later assembled. It featured a photo of Old Main which was part of a Custom Puzzle and Riddle Challenge activity organized by the University Program Board.

On this day, Crooks returned to his room, checked email and watched reruns of the sitcom, "The Middle." "I don't know why," Crooks said with a laugh. "It's not even that good of a show but I'm five seasons into it."

Crooks walking to class

   Crooks is one of fewer than 700 SRU students who lives on campus during the
   pandemic.

3-3:50 p.m., CHAMBER SINGERS REHEARSAL
Crooks is a member of the SRU Chamber Singers, an elite audition choir of approximately 20 student singers directed by Scott. All of SRU's music ensembles are active this semester, rehearsing in person and remotely for virtual performances. The Chamber Singers will be recording a performance at a professional studio in Pittsburgh that will be edited with an instrumental recording performed by the SRU Jazz Ensemble. The group is working on a jazz ballad, consisting of "Take the 'A' Train," composed by Billy Strayhorn, and "Embraceable You," by George Gershwin. And, of course, they practice the SRU Alma Mater.

COVID-19 safety protocols have presented some unique challenges for music ensembles like the Chamber Singers. The SRU Music Department implemented policies and practices based on guidance from national organizations, supported by scientific studies, to determine the safest way for students to play instruments or sing indoors. These strategies involve limiting the spreading of aerosols, or the tiny particles that transmit the coronavirus.

To allow time for HVAC systems to clear the air, rooms used for rehearsals must be vacated for 30 minutes before and after they are occupied and the duration of use is also limited to 30 minutes. For the Chamber Singers' 50-minute rehearsal, that means 25 minutes in the Choir Room before finishing the rehearsal in another room within the building. In addition to 6 feet of distance between one another, the singers wear face masks fitted with a wire that extends the fabric away from the mouth so that it won't be inhaled while singing. "It looks like a duck's bill," Crooks said. "It felt awkward at first, but it's normal now."

4 p.m., TAKEOUT DINNER AT BOOZEL
After rehearsal, Crooks walks to Boozel Dining Hall, which offers takeout-only dining. He visits the same serving stations as he normally would before the pandemic, but by following directional signs and collecting the food in takeout containers. On this day, he chooses a ham and salami wrap with provolone, a salad and wedding soup, which is traditional fare for a Pittsburgher. He takes his food back to his dorm room to eat, and on days the weather is nice, he'll eat outside. As part of the meal plan he selected, Crooks has eight "meal swipes" per week. Outside of meals on his plan, Crooks said he'll prepare the college-student staple Ramen noodles or go to Taco Bell.

Crooks picks up diner at Boozel

   Crooks picks up dinner from Boozel Dining Hall, which is takeout only during
   the pandemic.

4:45-11:30 p.m., CA DUTY/VISIT FRIENDS
As a community assistant for his residence hall floor, Crooks is paid to assist students with academic and personal referrals, enforce residence hall policies and provide other problem solving and leadership support. In addition to normal CA duties, such as checking to make sure people are adhering to quiet hours, the pandemic means CAs have to do things like deliver food to students who are following a COVID quarantine or isolation plan, or make sure students are wearing their masks. He said for the most part students follow the mask-wearing rules and he could only think of one time in the last year when he had to write up a student for not wearing a mask.

Students will sometimes be around each other without masks, just not in common areas or public spaces. There are students living in the same units, just with reduced capacity so that walls are between them when sleeping. For example, a 14-by-11-foot double only has one student, a double suite that normally sleeps four only has two students, and a quad with four single suites can still have four students. Crooks has a single studio and there are 10 students on his floor where there are normally 50.

"I've a closer bond with the nine other students," Crooks said. "I have more time to talk to all of them individually, so it's really nice to get to know them a lot better. I think we're all just happy to talk to people now because we spent so many months (at the start of the pandemic) not talking to anyone but our families. I feel like a lot of people are friendlier than usual because we appreciate the opportunity for social interaction."

On nights when he's not on CA duty, Crooks will visit with four other friends and play Mario Kart and other video games or board games. Although the University doesn't identify "pods" of students living together, Crooks said he feels safer hanging out with the same smaller group.

Food after pick up

   Crooks' takeout meal is a ham and salami wrap with provolone,
   a salad and wedding soup, which is traditional fare for a
   Pittsburgher.

WHAT'S MISSED AND WHAT'S NEXT?
As much as Crooks said he's had a relatively great year, there are things he misses, such as more social opportunities and campus events, and other perks, like going to Boozel Express at 10 p.m. for chicken tenders, but he's made the most of the circumstances.

"I'm doing a good job of making the most of it because I still try to leave my room and make an effort to meet people," Crooks said. "Because it is different than usual, it can be easy to be isolated, but it's important to act as normal as possible while also being safe about it."

Crooks still keeps in touch with students who are not on campus. He communicates regularly with his roommate from last year who is taking classes virtually and decided to stay home. "We're really close friends even though I haven't seen him in more than a year now," Crooks said, thanking things like texting, social media and other technology.

As a professor, Scott feels the same way with his students who, unlike Crooks, are participating virtually.

"I haven't seen some students in person or been in the same room since the pandemic began, but we're still really close," Scott said. "Students are missing hearing each other, performing live and just being together, but the progress hasn't stopped, so it's going to be amazing when we're all back together."

Crooks caught a glimpse of that progress and what the future holds when he recently attended a recital of a classmate, Savannah Wesolowski, a junior music performance major from Pittsburgh. Wesolowski had been taking classes virtually but was able to come to campus to perform in-person at Swope Music Hall.

"I hadn't heard her sing in person in more than a year and as soon as she opened her mouth I started crying because she had improved so much," Crooks said.

There's nothing "typical" about the last year or any of the SRU students' experiences as each one has had their own challenges to overcome. Some days might seem mundane, hidden from others or constrained to a computer screen. But what brings Crooks and other students hope is anticipating the entire SRU community coming back together again and sharing in each other's progress or as part of each other's redemption stories.

It will be like hearing choirs singing.

For more information, including answers to frequently asked questions related to life at SRU during the pandemic, visit the University's COVID-19 resource webpage.

MEDIA CONTACT: Justin Zackal | 724.738.4854  | justin.zackal@sru.edu