‘What the Heck Just Happened’ to Our Education?

Students and staff express frustration and offer support as all adjust to changes at Minneapolis College

No+one+present+to+guide+students+at+the+Minneapolis+College+information+desk

Anya Savvy, photographer

No one present to guide students at the Minneapolis College information desk

Anya Savvy, Editor-in-Chief

This news story is based on a call in which I sat in as a participant to voice my frustrations along with other Minneapolis College students. I did not plan to write this as a news story, but students are frustrated and hurting and it is important that our voices are heard. Because I did not intend to write this as a news story, I didn’t bother much with names or pronouns. I’m using the pronoun “they” for everyone because I do not know the pronouns or names of all the speakers.  

Mariah Cannon, a student majoring in Business Management, summed up what some students and staff may be feeling right now. “This almost seems unreal. What the heck just happened? A month ago I was sitting in class. I was doing some work. Everything was fine and now we’re in this situation.”

March 24th and 25th, Students Against Hunger and Homelessness (SAHH) hosted “Let it Out: A Student-Centered Discussion About the Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Meetings were held via Zoom. According to SAHH, these meetings were necessary to give Minneapolis College students “a space to connect with one another, share how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting their lives, and generate ideas” about how we can support one another.

Acting as meeting facilitator, Cannon asked the group, “What is your lived experience, right now, as a human being?” There was silence as participants gathered their thoughts or waited to see who would speak first after Cannon. Someone broke through the silence.

A student who had been laid off said, “The best part is knowing that I’m not the only one right now. Almost everyone I know has been laid off.” They’ve been trying to stay focused on the positive, but that has been difficult. A second job lined up that was to begin at the college but they were told to wait until further notice. Although Minnesota’s Governor Tim Walz requested a moratorium for those who are not able to pay rent during the COVID-19 pandemic, banning evictions, the student continued to express concern. “I don’t want to have to pay thousands of dollars in rent a few months from now, either.”

Another student who suffers from anxiety explained, “It’s not like things are that high or that low, but kind of in the middle. There is not a lot you can do.” For the most part they feel positive. “I’m okay, but it’s been on and off for me. It’s been difficult not going to work.”

A couple of students spoke about their difficulties with their formerly in-person classes moving to an online format March 30th. One student commented, “I’m not a huge fan of online courses; not a fan at all.”  This person felt that students should have the option to decide if they want to remain in their online classes or not. “Students should not be penalized for all the stuff that’s happening.” Another said they were not prepared for the move to online classes and struggled to make the college understand their predicament.

A survey went out to students asking them about their ability to access certain types of technologies, such as laptops, tablets, internet access, etc. Cannon wondered “How can students take a survey if they don’t have access to the technology to do so? We definitely need more contact with key decision makers.” There has yet to be an answer to Cannon’s question. A couple of students on the call said they didn’t know about the survey.

According to the Minneapolis College website, although both the library and the Academic Success Center are closed, students in need of college resources can access portions of campus Monday through Friday, 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. The school has created a list of resources [student resources] for students, as well as a COVID-19 information page [covid-19-information]. Unfortunately, the school has yet to come up with a plan to serve students who not only do not have access to the appropriate technology to complete online courses, but who are also unable to make it campus to access needed resources due to vulnerability and/or disability.

Cannon was also concerned about food security for Minneapolis College students and Student Life in general. “How can student [organizations] activate their budgets right now to help support students on campus?,” asked Cannon. “That might be a vital resource to help students in different ways get what they need.” SAHH had opened up the food pantry for students on Wednesday, March 25, but due to the governor’s shelter-in-place order, the food pantry is now closed until further notice.

Cannon asked attendees how they felt about the communication process and information they were receiving about COVID-19. A staff member responded to being inundated with COVID-19 information, “[It] can make it difficult or challenging to know what information is important and what is most accurate for you to be following, and I can understand the stress and anxiety that not only students, but all of us [including, staff] have been collectively feeling. How do I navigate this space in making sure that people have support and resources?”

One student responded, “It is difficult. We are, as students, trying our best to focus on school, education, assignments . . . there is a lot that’s been happening right now. [With] everything shutting down, it’s been crazy. Some of us have lost jobs. We need to try to support one another. It is going to be too much right now.”

A Minneapolis College instructor expressed gratitude for the Zoom meeting saying, “It will help me a lot with my students.” One of their students is currently in the ICU fighting COVID-19. “It’s not having secure housing and substance abuse, not having good nutrition . . . other people and I are holding him up. I want us to get through. Please ask before you get to that space and let’s hold each other in our hearts.”

Cannon asked, “How can students communicate their risks to campus? Sending an email when you’re in a crisis situation, when you just don’t have food, [or] you might be suffering from substance abuse, etc., is not ideal.” Not all questions asked by students or staff have found answers right now.

During the meeting, a staff member gave a suggestion to help students and staff cope right now. “Don’t feel forced to move forward. A year from now, when you look back on this . . . I think it’s worth writing some of what you’re feeling so that you do have an opportunity to look back at it later and say ‘how was I feeling about this at that time? Do some of these same emotions still come up? How am I processing them? How is my mental health and well-being? At the end of the day, that’s the priority. . . I can’t think about what’s going to happen next Monday. Today, I’m going to get through today.”

SAHH may hold more meetings for students to express what is and isn’t working for them. For more information about possible upcoming meetings, contact SAHH Advisor Lena Jones at [email protected].

Anya Savvy is a pen name for a Minneapolis College student who works as a reporter for City College News. To contact Anya, please email them at [email protected]