‘Scared’ and ‘unclear’: Students react to Temple’s move to online teaching to combat COVID-19 spread

Temple will move to online course instruction on March 16 to combat the spread of COVID-19, a disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Jonah Turk, an undeclared freshman, stands at the Bell Tower on March 11 and discusses his plans to travel home after Temple University announced that all classes will move online. | CLAUDIA SALVATO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Hanna Pronina doesn’t want to leave her off-campus apartment to go home to Kharkiv, Ukraine. But she fears she has to. 

“I personally do not know how I would be affected to the fullest, cause my parents, especially my father might want me to come home,” said Pronina, a junior biology major. “… In reality, I just really do not know what’s about to happen.”

Pronina is one of many Temple University students concerned over planning for her housing, travel, jobs and coursework following the university’s Wednesday announcement to transition to online instruction due to concerns of the COVID-19 outbreak, the virus caused by novel coronavirus. 

Temple’s decision came hours after several regional universities also moved to online instruction on Wednesday when there were 16 presumed positive cases of coronavirus in Pennsylvania — including one in Philadelphia — and 23 in New Jersey. Delaware also reported its first case of the disease Wednesday. 

There are no cases at Temple.

All students in university housing have to move out by March 21 and students living off campus are recommended to return home for the remainder of the semester, according to the university’s announcement. 

“It’s kind of unclear right now,” said Maddy Okkerse, a sophomore international business major who lives on campus in Temple Towers. “I’m definitely moving out of my residence hall, I’m getting a storage unit to put my stuff in until I can move back onto campus next fall, but I’m either going to be staying with a friend in Philadelphia or I’m going to move back to my hometown.”

Hanna Pronina, a junior biology major and international student from Ukraine, stands outside of Saxby’s and responds to the university’s announcement on March 11 that classes will move online for the rest of the semester due to COVID-19 concerns. Pronina is uncertain whether she will travel back to Ukraine. | CLAUDIA SALVATO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Okkerse is also worried about finding another job to replace her student worker job in the Student Center, she said. 

“That’s one of my main sources of income so it’s definitely going to be hard to find another job while this situation pans out, you know, paying for room and board and meal plans for the whole semester, and having to leave halfway through,” Okkerse added.

The uncertainty about how Main Campus student worker jobs will look for the rest of the semester may also leave her without a source of income, said Kelly Fabian, a sophomore biology major who works as an office assistant at the Student Success Center. 

Fabian wants the university to issue refunds for the services she won’t use for the remainder of the semester, she added.

“I paid for housing, and I paid for a dining plan,” Fabian said. “I want half my money back for that, because I’m not using it. To me, that’s only fair.”

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization announced the novel coronavirus outbreak is now a pandemic. 

Other students, like Jonah Turk, a freshman undeclared major living in James S. White residence hall, have made immediate travel plans following the announcement. Within an hour after it, his mom purchased a plane ticket for him to fly home to Los Angeles, California on March 20.

“If you told me we were not going to finish freshman year on campus at the start of the year, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Turk said. “It’s just really shocking.”

Turk is more worried about having to pack and ship his belongings home, rather than the switch to online classes, he said. 

The university announced Monday that faculty and students should prepare for the possibility of moving to remote instruction. 

Evan Sleppy, a freshman musical theater major, stands on Montgomery Avenue near 12th street and discusses implications of the university’s March 11 announcement that classes will shift online amid COVID-19 concerns. | CLAUDIA SALVATO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

But Bogdan Nagiriniak, a senior neuroscience student, said the quality of instruction with online classes “is not the same,” and makes him nervous about completing his last semester of classes with good grades, among other concerns over Spring Commencement. 

“I don’t know how graduation is going to look,” Nagiriniak added. ”I was looking forward to it.”

Temple is working on a contingency plan for Commencement, according to its Wednesday announcement. 

The university’s decision to switch to online classes for the rest of the spring semester, instead of doing so temporarily before making a final decision about the rest of the semester, might not have been the best course of action, said Evan Sleppy, a freshman musical theater major.

“I’m scared,” Sleppy said. “I think the uncertainty about it all is what scares me a lot.” 

Not being well informed from professors about how classes would be conducted online prior to the announcement adds to the concern, too, said Samantha Sprechman, a sophomore biology and Asian studies major. 

On top of that, she is worried about the university’s decisions about the Summer 2020 semester, as she planned to apply to summer research opportunities, which greatly impact her chances of eventually getting into medical school.

Nasir Harris, a senior engineering technology major and vice president of student organization S.M.O.O.T.H., stands outside of the Tech Center on March 11 and discusses his health and safety concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic and Temple University’s movement to online classes. | CLAUDIA SALVATO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

“It jeopardizes possibly my future, and definitely my education in some regard,” Sprechman added.

Still, even though the announcement should’ve been made days earlier, the university made the right decision to transition to online classes, said Nasir Harris, a senior engineering technology major. 

Harris is planning to host emergency meetings and cancel events for student organizations he has leadership roles in, like Strong Men Overcoming Obstacles Through Hardwork and the National Society of Black Engineers, Harris said. Health is first priority for his peers, he added. 

“Realistically, at the end of the day, we’re here to be students,” Harris said. “And you can’t be a functional student if you’re suffering from any virus for that matter.” 

Colin Evans contributed reporting.

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