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Opinion: Shift back to in-person instruction will bring new challenges for some students

While some Bruins may feel excited to return to campus after more than a year away, others may find this transition stressful. We should respect everyone’s boundaries so we can all comfortably adjust to the new normal. (Lauren Kim/Daily Bruin)

By Rachel Durose

May 13, 2021 4:13 p.m.

A return to normal may be the end goal many have eagerly awaited, but for others, this transition won’t be easy.

Instead, it will be one of anxiety and stress.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in early April that he hopes to lift COVID-19 restrictions across California on June 15. The education sector is following the state’s lead and adjusting its learning models accordingly. UCLA, for example, plans to bring back in-person instruction in fall, joining dozens of colleges and universities across the nation that will do the same.

Just because the economy is gradually opening up doesn’t mean that people are – or should be – ready to embrace it.

Bruins need to be mindful of their professors and peers’ new boundaries, as well as the social anxiety they may have experienced from the trauma of a pandemic. We must respect one another’s willingness – or lack thereof – to engage in in-person social situations.

While some wide-eyed baby Bruins will be eager to trek Bruin Walk for the first time, walking that same path after more than a year away could be overwhelming for others.

“I feel like there’s still going to be some lingering COVID anxiety for a lot of people, including myself,” said Guilia Piscitelli, a fourth-year international development studies student. “I’ve noticed certain friends, the moment they’re vaccinated, are comfortable going to a party, but I’m still scared to go to the grocery store.”

Piscitelli is also the co-president of Wazo Connect, which aims to improve mental health across campus. Next year, the student organization will work to connect Bruins with peer mentors who can help them navigate a new social environment, Piscitelli added.

During the pandemic, national trends in mental health worsened, and many Bruins lost loved ones. In an April 2020 Active Minds survey, 80% of college students reported that the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected their mental health.

As this chapter of our lives closes, each individual’s boundaries will be different, and whatever those boundaries are, they should be equally respected – by both students and their university.

Returning to in-person college courses or starting them for the first time is already a challenging hurdle for students, one that doesn’t need to be made worse by peers’ judgmental attitudes.

Richard LeBeau, a UCLA clinical psychologist, said the challenges and benefits of remote therapy and mental health programming vary across communities.

“I just really hope that everybody at the different decision making levels … is really thinking through and listening about what people’s real concerns are because it’s going to be a transition,” said LeBeau, who is also the associate director of clinical services for the Depression Grand Challenge Innovative Treatment Network.

This plea for members of the UCLA community to be understanding of the anxieties of their peers is not to say that a return to in-person activities should be scorned. Students will have the opportunity to engage with the larger Los Angeles community in a way that is impossible from behind a computer screen.

After missing out on in-person activities, Hannah Kim, a third-year English student, joined the student organization Students vs. Pandemics, a student group seeking to increase wellness across communities during this difficult time.

“Right when … (students) were sent home … I was just about to start volunteering at the hospital, then when that got taken away from me, I was like…what am I going to do?” said Kim, the co-external chair of Students vs. Pandemics. “(Students vs. Pandemics) was just a really rewarding experience for me, and I’m really excited for what the future holds for our organization.”

Some of the mental health struggles the country has witnessed are a result of social isolation, so being able to attend a college party is exactly what some may need. However, the student who wants to socialize with vaccinated friends should not be shamed any more than the student who is still uncomfortable with the scenario.

Jacky Miller, a third-year economics and political science student, said she looks forward to feeling more comfortable speaking up in discussion sections and connecting with professors in office hours once UCLA returns to in-person instruction, but she understands it will not be a simple transition.

“I really enjoyed working on a schedule (that) I’m kind of able to set, and I know with in person classes that will definitely be a change,” Miller said. “I think it’ll take definitely an adjustment period to get back into that as a whole.”

To be fair, UCLA is doing what it can to help those who may feel anxious returning to campus. Students will not be thrown into overcrowded lecture halls scrambling for seats – UCLA has already stated, large, undergraduate lectures will be virtual. Additionally, public spaces reopening does not mean that masks and social distancing will disappear overnight. The return to campus will be challenging, but Bruins can make this transition easier if they consider their peers’ mental health.

Versions of normalcy are deeply personal. It is critical that we all respect these standards – no matter how different they may be.

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Rachel Durose
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