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The New Normal: How Students Are Networking

By Dylan Baggiano

The COVID-19 safety restrictions on campus force all students to find alternative ways to socialize, however, to some UAB students, this new age of hanging out is all but fun.

When returning to campus this past week, TaMaya Mitchell, a junior majoring in communications and broadcast journalism said the atmosphere on campus has changed, “I feel that UAB has lost its sense of community.”

To slow the spread of the coronavirus, the university implemented the “UAB United Initiative”, an ordinance which mandates the safety measures of social distancing, mask wearing, and four modes of instruction for the Fall semester: face-to-face, hybrid learning, remote, and fully online. Designated courses are conducted via Zoom, a video conferencing service, which allows students and professors to see each other face-to-face.

However, Zoom does not facilitate the same social interactions that might have taken place in the traditional classroom, according to Laila Sai’d, a senior majoring in social work. Sai’d said talking to new classmates has been awkward for her.

“In class [on Zoom], it’s a little harder now to interact with people like you normally would,” Sai’d said. “You have to wait for a professor to start the Zoom meeting. You can’t really sit down and approach new people and start conversations.”

For many returning students, meeting new people virtually can be a difficult task. From Tamya Mitchell’s experience in-person classes nowadays do not have much to offer in terms of seeing new faces.

“The campus is so dry,” said Mitchell. “A kid in my Zoom class mentioned that he had an in-person class and it was just him and a couple of other students—that’s scary.”

Mervyn H. Sterne library, empty as students practice mandated social distancing.

In addition to changes in the classroom, Lauren Davis, a senior social work major said big changes have been taking place outside of the classroom. Prior to the coronavirus, Mervyn H. Sterne Library served as a commonplace for students to work on homework together and collaborate on assignments. Davis said that the library no longer serves the same purpose.

“Sterne feels dead now,” Davis said. “They’ve blocked off so many tables that too many people can’t sit in there at one time. Now, we can’t just go to Sterne and hang out with friends. We have to be more direct with where and how we are going to hang out.”

Students like Garret Adams, a senior communications management major, have had to take pro-active measures to reach out to friends since social distancing is mandated in gathering spaces like Sterne.

“Social distancing and having to wear a mask constantly has shifted my communications for sure,” Adams said. “It has made us a lot more intentional as well with friends and strangers.”

Instead of hanging out in person on campus, Lisa Posey has opted to hang out online. Using Zoom and FaceTime, Lisa Posey said she is able to safely visit others from the comfort of her home, even though it takes time adjusting to the transition.

“Video chatting has been a big thing [way of communication] for me, for sure,” Posey said, a junior majoring in secondary education. “Also, switching to video for church has been difficult, since I was very active in the church.”

Despite the hang-ups and restrictions students face when socializing, some students pro-pose that virtual socializing is essential.

Laila Sai’d is encouraging classmates this semester to reach out to one another in hopes of reducing the feeling of loneliness around campus. For new students, Sai’d said that making just one friend is important for one’s mental health.

“For freshman, even if you make a connection over Zoom or Canvas, that’s better than nothing,” Sai’d said. “When you are sitting in a tiny dorm at UAB, it’s easy to feel isolated. You might not be meeting in person, but at least you aren’t alone with your thoughts, especially when college can be stressful.”

Edited by Alivia Moore, Diane Mwai, & John H. Glenn

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Made By Students from the University of Alabama at Birmingham