As the entire world continues to feel the jolt of the coronavirus, 2021 kicks off for students and faculty at Emporia State as not only a new year and a new semester but compared to last January, a new world.

The pandemic has created cultural changes for the university while also instigating financial turmoil that has not been seen in a generation. While the state looks to cut programs and reduce costs, ESU strives to hold onto programs and jobs adding to the anxiety of coping with a pandemic. Amidst the chaos, students and faculty have realized not only how important their actions and the actions of their peers are, but how important ESU is.

“I think that a lot of America is having struggles outside of our campus, outside of our community that a lot of us our students are affected by, and I think that we're going to struggle with meeting the needs of our students because I think there's a lot that needs to be done at the country level that our students want to help and they want to see change. And we can only do so much as a university,” said Amaya Oshell, VP of Associated Student Government. “And so I think that we're gonna have to really work hard to ensure that we're being a voice for the students.... We really just have to take the time and the initiative.”

Of the several changes being made, the top priority for administration and many students is the ability for students to meet face to face, said Jim Williams, VP of Student Affairs. March 15, almost the exact day last year when students were informed through an email they would have to begin remote learning, they will be given the option to file requests to administration for in person gatherings of clubs and student organizations.

“The hope is that by April 1 we can start to see some face to face things, you know, and the world of student life will start to return,” said Williams. “That's been sorely missing and something we worry about constantly.”

Williams also mentioned the administration's goal is to make vaccinations accessible to all students and faculty in April once ESU begins Phase 5 of the Vaccine Prioritization Plan.

“There's five phases to the vaccination process, and the typical student population is pretty much in phase five,” said Williams. “There are some exceptions and so, we're working to see what it would take for us to be a vaccination site the moment we hit phase five.”

For now students will continue to be tested in the Student Wellness Center. After ongoing trial and error, Mary McDaniel Anschutz, the director of the Student Wellness Center, along with the wellness center staff have decided the best way to keep students and staff safe is for students to call the center upon arrival and wait outside or in their car before a nurse can escort them into the building.

“We learned a lot as we went along, there really isn't a roadmap for this. … You see that in the news,” said McDaniel Anschutz. “You try something and with the best that you believe will work and then adjust from there.”

With the hours of operation being 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday staff struggles to keep their heads above water balancing the needs of students with other needs outside of COVID, but they will continue to conquer the challenge of finding room and availability to test everyone who wants to be tested.

“In November when it was so, so bad we just weren't able to do everything for everybody,” said McDaniel Anschutz. “You know, there were days where we started the morning with the schedule already double booked. ...We had a lot of people who wanted to be tested, just because and when you're in that kind of situation you really have to take the people who are sick. That's the priority and that didn't make everybody happy, but that's just the way it has to be under those circumstances.”

Through these challenges staff and students in different departments have developed a greater appreciation for not only their peers and fellow faculty members, but for ESU as a whole. Kent Weiser, Director of the Athletic Department, shares how the pandemic has given student athletes a greater appreciation of their coaches and their teammates.

”It made you realize what is important. ...The camaraderie (student athletes) feel, the structure they are used to having, and importance of being on a team -- that student athlete experience. ...When that gets shut down that really is a traumatic kind of a little loss,” said Weiser. “I think the importance of trying to maintain that relationship with student athletes amongst themselves and with their coaches is so important.”

Jim Williams explains that with the acknowledgement of loss comes not only a greater appreciation for everything so easily taken for granted and goals for the upcoming future, but also coming out stronger and with more skills than ever thought possible.

“The things I think that students have learned that are an advantage to you during this pandemic -- adaptability, a whole different style of communication, coping skills, balancing and learning, frustration, all are things that will continue to make sure are not forgotten when things get back to normal. ...those are the skills that will set you as graduates, lightyears ahead as you continue to master those skills. ...

I have the privilege of really being part of a phenomenal opportunity and when it can't be the same as it's been I've learned that the things we do, can't be taken for granted,” said Williams. “And that's helped me work with the division staff to be, you know, we're focusing on what we need to do but our open energy and excitement has been looking at the light at the end of the tunnel.”



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