This is an early examination of the impact COVID-19 social distancing policies have had on college student experiences. The purpose of this study is to examine how social distancing policies are understood for students on Longwood’s campus who are living with them. COVID-19 took a great deal away from the world but has given a new perspective to the modality of the higher-education system. Students are attending college in the midst of a global pandemic, facing new struggles and policies that are impeding their college experience. The participants who have been studied have attended Longwood University in the Fall 2020 semester and were living on or near campus. This is a mixed-methods study containing both quantitative and qualitative aspects. The quantitative data is measuring the knowledge of students who know someone who has broken the social distancing policy by attending an event on or off-campus with more than 50 people. The qualitative data is measuring the effectiveness of the social distancing policy with an interval ratio question ranging from 0 (Not at all) to 10 (Extremely beneficial). Themes that will likely arise during this study are dissatisfaction with changes in policy, physical and emotional consequences of the shift to online and hybrid learning, and the effectiveness of the social distancing and mask policy reminders. The summary of the results found are 38.66% (167/432) of student respondents answered “Yes,” to knowing someone who has broken the social distancing policy, 46.06% (199/432) of student respondents answered “No.” The mean score for the dependent variable was 6.44 and the standard deviation was 2.41. 68% of students answered between 4.03 and 8.85. The practical implications of the study are socialization among students on college campuses and this study matters because it highlights the real-life repercussions isolation and social distancing have on an individual.
For many students, college is the first time away from home and the beginning of a chapter of life where one sets their own rules and creates their own schedule. One of the most valuable experiences one can have on a college campus is opportunities for socialization with peers and the newfound freedom of making decisions for oneself. Social distancing policies, although they have been added for protection, severely diminishes that aspect of the overall college experience. This paper reflects on the topics and patterns of the changes in policies, specifically social distancing, within an unprecedented context of a global public health pandemic. On March 11, 2020, the Coronavirus reached pandemic status and within the following months, recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on how to slow the spread of the unknown virus reached homes. It started with limited numbers in social gatherings; the closing of schools, restaurants, and other non-essential businesses; and nation-wide stay-at-home orders. This paper considers the impact of these changes in policies on college students and how they impact individuals within the dimensions of Longwood’s campus.
The research question at the base of this research was “What are student attitudes towards Longwood University’s social distancing policy with the hypothesis as follows, “If social distancing is enforced due to COVID-19, then there is an expected increase in social life limitations and student attitudes will be negatively affected.” Studies have addressed these problems in support and or against online learning, social distancing and gathering limitations for individuals amid a global pandemic, and the mental health implications that are tied to isolation. The significance of the study is to recognize the impacts of COVID-19 on college students and how their life is being affected.
The Coronavirus, the well-known 2019/2020 viral outbreak that later morphed into a global pandemic, has reached college campuses and they are taking a stance to slow the spread and keep students in the classroom. Some are doing this by introducing policy guidelines related to student ratio and campus size. The opinions of students and their attitudes towards the COVID-19 virus regulations put into effect by Longwood University specifically, is what is to be evaluated to determine the satisfaction of volunteers who participate in the survey at hand. This research and literature review help to further support or oppose the research at hand using policy and peer-reviewed articles within the social science and medical fields.
COVID-19 and its Health Implications
What exactly is COVID-19 and what are its health implications? The novel Coronavirus in its early stages was described as a severe acute respiratory infection transmitted from an animal to humans in Wuhan, China in December of 2019. This pandemic has caused millions of infections, deaths, and rising public health concerns with how rapidly this virus mutates and is transmitted. Prevention is key to slowing the spread of a fast pace virus such as this and Heymann (2020), along with recommendations from the WHO, World Health Organization, in his early studies of the disease recommends extraordinary public health measures must be put into place to prevent further disease transmission. In Wuhan, that looked like the closure of public transportation and the beginning of quarantined self-isolation. Social support is a key aspect of a human’s well-being, but the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends preventative efforts in reducing the spread by social distancing (Bordnick, Hansel, and Saltzman, 2020). with an unprecedented effect not only on public health but also on social and economic activities.
Mental Health Repercussions Due to Isolation
The need to isolate introduces negative mental health implications which is the last thing wanted in an unprecedented time of crisis. Work by Folkman, Fredrickson, & Lazarus, and Folkman have demonstrated studies addressing adults’ subjective well-being is associated with self-efficacy, self-control, and most importantly, social support (Ronan, Rosenbaum, &Mishley-Yarlap, 2016). Additional work by Bordnick, Hansel, and Saltzman supports this theory as well stating how isolation and loneliness resulting from physical restrictions will affect the larger population and can later result in poorer mental and physical health (2020). The aftereffects of COVID-19 on a person’s mental health, although largely unknown, can be compared to an individual’s socialization patterns from disaster analysis following Hurricane Katrina. Social support and community ties had a “crucial protective role in mental health recovery,” (Saltzman, Hansel, & Bordnick 2020). The literature suggests that a strong social support system is important in preserving and protecting the mental health of an individual in a time of crisis. Social distancing policies prohibit typical forms of social support and could negatively impact the lives of individuals, college students in particular when it comes to making a move back towards the classroom and their reemerging social lives.
Modality of Learning Amid the Coronavirus
The traditional college experience is typically seen as the time for self-exploration and discovery, not self-isolation amid a global pandemic. The pandemic caused schools, colleges, and universities across the globe to shut down their campuses so students could follow social distancing measures and although it has happened quickly, online learning has become popular among college campuses. Andrews, Carter, Damianakis, Munro, Skinner, & Matin have concluded technology-based learning has been widely accepted as a vehicle for education as it has improved interactions among distanced students, allows for adaptability in differing learning styles and delivery methods, and overall promotes convenience and flexibility in learning (2018). Online learning can be effective in technologically advanced countries but if a means to internet connection does not exist then neither does the opportunity to move exclusively to online learning techniques. While the literature above supports online learning, Adnan and Anwar highlight that places like Pakistan, also in the midst of a pandemic, handle the majority of their learning, teaching, and administrative activities of institutions are left to be dealt with manually because they lack access to a reliable internet connection (2020). This literature is also focused on the concerns of student capacity to participate in the shift towards digital learning for students who are tactile learners or who may be underprivileged with a lack of schooling resources.
Social Life Implications Due to COVID-19
Finally, the previous literature has led to the social life implications brought on by social distancing policies. Leisure is how an individual chooses to spend and enjoy their free time, but with social distancing due to COVID, time spent enjoying typical leisure activities has diminished. Social interaction-based activities are necessary for growth and learning, particularly for underprivileged children and young adults (Adnan and Anwar, 2020), and for mental health maintenance and upkeep. Elmer, Mepham, and Stadfeld recognize that policies that recommend distancing were put in place for safety but physical proximity and opportunities for interaction are important for developing social ties (2020). The literature concludes that if the Coronavirus continues at length, then it is expected for social networks to continue to be limited from student to student and a higher rate of students on college campuses will report feeling socially isolated along with a negative change in the status of their mental health.
In conclusion, as the literature stated above, social distancing policies put in place due to COVID-19 have a heavy influence on multiple aspects of public health concerns, mental health, and socialization of individuals. Gaps in research may equate to it all being completed within the year 2020 because this situation is unprecedented in all aspects of life. Future research could delve more intently into the attitudes the novel COVID-19 pandemic has had on an individual’s mental health and socialization and within the dimensions of college campuses.
Data and Methods
Students at Longwood University made up the population for the research data received in this survey and a non-probability convenience sample was used. This type of sample is when researchers do not know who the respondents to the survey were nor why they were chosen. The sample is not randomized, and it is not generalizable either. The link to the survey was sent from Dr. Pederson to the Criminology, Sociology, and Anthropology department, and the faculty were asked to disperse the questionnaire among their students. Student researchers put the link to the questionnaire on Longwood University student class pages to reach a broader spectrum of students. Researchers who are a part of any on-campus Greek organizations sent out the questionnaire to their chapter peers as well as Longwood athletics and club athletic organizations. The questionnaire was organized into four subsections each targeting issues or grey areas researchers were interested in the response to. They are as follows, 1. Class modality or types of learning environments offered 2. Policies enacted by Longwood University to slow the spread of COVID-19 3. Student’s mental and physical health and lastly, 4. Demographic variables. The sample received the questionnaire through a Google Forum link.
The quantitative data was collected in the form of close-ended questions. In this questionnaire, there were a total of 432 responses were gathered. The dependent variable in the research wastheeffectivenessand the survey question used for this section was “On a scale from 0-10, how beneficial do you think the policies Longwood enacted are at reducing the spread of COVID-19?”Its attributes included0-10 0 = Not at all while 10 = Extremely beneficial. The independent variable from the questionnaire was Longwood’s social distancing policy. The survey question used for this section was “Do you know any Longwood student who has attended a social event with more than 50 people that were not socially distancing on or near campus this semester?” Its attributes included “Yes,” “No,” “Maybe,” and “Prefer not to answer.” These specific data variables were used from the questionnaire because they are well-written research questions that are clear and relevant to the research that has been conducted. The closed-ended survey questions will be analyzed using descriptive statistics and figures.
The qualitative data was collected in the form of open-ended questions.
“Have the changes to classes affected your motivation to learn course material? If yes, how so?”
“What seems to be working well this semester?”
“Is there anything you would like us to know related to Longwood and changes due to COVID-19? Please use this space below to tell us.”
We recruited our participants through a link posted to Longwood student class pages, a link sent to Greek and athletic organizations, and a link to the students in the Criminology, Sociology, and Anthropology department. We received 432 responses to these types of questions on the survey. Open-ended questions were analyzed using an open coded approach looking for themes in the written responses received.
The dependent variable is student attitudes towards changes in policy, specifically social distancing and this was asked on a 0 (Not at all) to 10 (Extremely beneficial) scale. The independent variable is Longwood’s social distancing policy and student respondents answered “Yes,” “Maybe,” “No,” and “Prefer not to answer.” The hypothesis is, “If there are changes in Longwood’s social distancing policy, then student attitudes will be negatively affected.”
The mean score for the dependent variable was 6.44 while the standard deviation was 2.41. This means about 68% of students answered between 4.03 and 8.85. This shows that answers gathered from student respondents on changes in student attitudes towards Longwood’s social distancing policy vary greatly.
Knowledge of students who have broken policy
|Knows someone who has broken the social distancing policy||Count||Percent|
|Prefer not to answer||13||3.01%|
Table 1 shows out of 432 respondents 167 answered “yes,” 53 answered “maybe,” 199 answered “no,” and 13 preferred not to answer. The majority, 46.06%, came from student respondents who answered “no” to whether or not they knew someone who broke the social distancing policy by gathering in a group of fifty or more people. The second-highest percentage, 38.66%, came from student respondents who answered “yes” to knowing someone who has broken policy.
Mean self-ranked attitudes towards Longwood’s social distancing policy
|Knows someone who has broken the social distancing policy||Means of attitudes towards social distancing policy|
|Prefer not to answer||4.46|
Table 2 shows the comparison between student respondents to Longwood’s social distancing policy and student attitudes towards this change. The highest mean is for people who answered “No” to the question measuring if they do or do not know someone who has broken Longwood’s social distancing policy by attending a social event with more than 50 people who were not actively social distancing. The second and third highest are respondents who answered “Yes” and “Maybe.”
The original hypothesis stated, “If there are changes in Longwood’s social distancing policy, then student attitudes will be negatively affected.” But what the data shows us that the original hypothesis was incorrect. Throughout the survey, answers showed that students who know someone who has broken the “more than 50 people” rule feel the social distancing rule is working less than people who don’t know someone who has broken that rule.
This research is focused on student attitudes towards changes in policy made by Longwood University to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Three themes became apparent in open-ended responses – the dissatisfaction with changes in policy; the physical and emotional consequences from the shift to online and hybrid learning; and the effectiveness of social distancing and mask policy reminders. The pandemic on Longwood’s campus has evoked different feelings and responses to changes in mental health and social life implications due to the changes made in the policies.
Dissatisfaction with Changes in Policy
Qualitative data indicated that many student respondents have a high level of dissatisfaction with changes in on and off-campus policies. Although these policies were put into action with the intent to protect Longwood students, some believe they either are not doing enough or not giving students the college experience they feel they deserve. For example:
Longwood has shown barely any effort towards stopping the spread of the virus. People walk around campus without masks, parties happen, school-sponsored social events have happened at the old student center, the RAs and housing has not punished the frequent parties that are thrown by the people next door to me and around Lancer Park even after multiple reports from multiple people. Longwood’s only real action they have done is sent emails that say things along the lines of “You are STRONG students” and claim that if we are forced go home for the semester/year then it will be purely the students fault despite the fact that there are no consequences for breaking the rules. In an email to high up leadership of Longwood University, I said “At the beginning of the semester we agreed to a safety pledge, but that’s all it ever was: A mental pledge with no enforcement.” Overall, I have been very dissatisfied with Longwood’s response to COVID-19, and firmly believe after seeing what other schools have been doing to help prevent the virus that Longwood University is not offering the same level of safety that other schools have been offering their students. (Student 200)
I am super appreciative of all that Longwood faculty has done, but I think some of the policies are unnecessary. The guest policy is completely unnecessary, and if it was gone, my entire semester would have been much better. (Student 350)
“I don’t think Longwood is doing enough to manage [sic] the off-campus parties and spread of COVID. Some students aren’t taking this serious at all,” (Student 048). Changes in policy created ill feelings towards the university that students did not appreciate. Student concerns lie with feelings of doubt in the Longwood community at how able and ready they are to protect them and their peers. As these examples demonstrate, dissatisfaction with changes in on and off-campus policies were described as “unnecessary” (Student 350) or “barely showing effort” (Student 200) to slow the spread of the virus.
Universities around the globe cannot accommodate the needs and opinions of all their students and with the overwhelming amount of student respondents to the questionnaire, an outlier to the data was made apparent. This example being:
Although [sic] people are unhappy with policies and feel like longwood needs to do better, it is really hard to manage a university and every single person’s actions so I [sic] think while our individual actions may be flawed, the university is doing the best it can to put in policies and rules to keep us safe without micromanaging every single thing we do because that just isn’t practical. It’s [sic] easy to say longwood isn’t doing enough, but they are doing a lot more than other schools and our COVID [sic] cases are reflecting that. (Student 360)
Physical and Emotional Consequences of the Shift to Online and Hybrid Learning
Another theme that became apparent in the responses received was the physical and emotional consequences from the shift to online and hybrid learning. The traditional classroom environment many students are used to has changed to follow the social distancing guidelines to reduce the spread of the virus. With class sizes larger than the recommended capacity of individuals per room, professors modified their courses to be all online or hybrid, half the students attend the course, synchronously or asynchronously, on a given “A/B” day format. Students have reported a loss of motivation and a significant decrease in their mental health by having to stay in their accommodations, on or off-campus, and away from the classroom. For example:
I believe that the changes that Longwood made due to the virus were not completely thought out with respect to the mental health of its students. There are people who thrive because they are social and when that is taken away, [sic] they suffer. (Student 271)
I have lost all effort and motivation to attend/participate in my classes. Learning is significantly harder because some professors are moving too fast and refuse to slow down when students ask. When taking tests or quizzes, Honorlock [sic] is an awful way to moderate as it is more than invasive and should not be used because for students who already have test anxiety, Honorlock [sic] makes it worse. (Student 098).
“Due to the policies Longwood has put in place, it has had an extreme negative effect on my mental health and sense of belonging and increased my feeling of isolation and anxiety.” (Student 251) “My mental health is so much worse than before. My motivation is gone.” (Student 241) High emotions were present in responses from students that feel as if the university does not care about the impact of coming back to full time classes when they are not receiving the education, they feel they deserve. These feelings have showed up in students as having a lack of motivation to participate in classes and feelings of laziness.
The Effectiveness of Social Distancing and Mask Policy Reminders
The final theme found was the effectiveness of social distancing and mask policy reminders on and around campus. Longwood University has many signs and stickers placed all around campus as a reminder to students of the policies in place. Walking to class and in classrooms, masks are required at all times. In classrooms and at campus dining options, stickers were placed on the ground six feet apart serving as an additional reminder. When student respondents were asked what was working well this semester, these reminders were overwhelmingly stated as such. For example: “Face mask signs all over campus are good. The social distancing stickers remind people” (Student 098) “I think the social distancing aspects of my classes are working well as we are all spaced out” (Student 228) “I think the spreading out of students in classes and face masks in classes have worked in some ways” (Student 230). “I think for the most part, students are wearing their face masks and remaining 6 feet apart from others while on campus” (Student 280) Although the semester has not been what individuals expected, the policy reminders on campus seem to be doing what administration intended.
The research and evaluation above were conducted to review student respondents’ attitudes towards changes in Longwood University’s social distancing policies. The effectiveness of the social distancing policy with an interval ratio question ranging from 0 (Not at all) to 10 (Extremely beneficial) was measured through quantitative data. The knowledge of students who know someone who has broken the social distancing policy by attending an event on or off-campus with more than 50 people was measured through the qualitative data found. Themes that arisen during this study were dissatisfaction with changes in policy, physical and emotional consequences of the shift to online and hybrid learning, and the effectiveness of the social distancing and mask policy reminders. This study matters because it highlights the real-life repercussions isolation and social distancing has on an individual.
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