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Editorial: Unprecedented circumstances call for understanding from the Black Bear community

It has been over two weeks since the University of Maine announced that all classes would resume after spring break on a new platform — that the students who play frisbee on the mall, eat with friends in the Memorial Union and spend hours studying in the Raymond H. Fogler Library would be asked not to return to campus. Instead, it was announced on March 11 that all UMaine classes would resume online only and that all on-campus students must return home for the rest of the semester. This is not shocking news, as the UMaine community, and other schools across the nation, have started to come to terms with this new academic reality. However, it’s important to reflect and remember that just because school happens on a screen and times seem uncertain, the UMaine community is still here for its Black Bear family. 

With the announcement of UMaine’s closure, there came an understandable response of confusion and panic. As the announcement came only a few days before spring break, many students had to quickly create plans for moving off campus, cancel travel plans and try to understand how their classes they had been attending all semester were going to work online. But now, school has started again, and the first week of online learning is past us. With it came a wide range of emotions. 

UMaine students did not hesitate to take to the internet to express their feelings. The beloved “UMaine Memes for Drunken Teens” Facebook page features a wide array of school closing related memes, with angry and confused students commenting on each post. Petitions calling for UMaine to move classes to a “pass/fail” basis, and to refund students of room and board fees circled the web, as the university had not yet released plans for how they were moving forward. 

This response of anger and confusion was rational and valid. COVID-19 has brought unprecedented uncertainty changing our everyday lives in almost every way. A natural response to change is confusion, anger and even grief. Many students expressed frustration at their professors who have failed to adequately explain how their courses will work online. Others complain that workload has seriously increased and that professors seem out of touch with students’ changing needs and environments. While these are rational concerns, the UMaine student body and community needs to shift our emotions away from anger and toward fostering understanding if we are to make it through this pandemic smoothly. 

This pandemic is unprecedented for our century. Yes, we have had viruses and diseases spread before, but COVID-19 has caused businesses to shut down, international borders to close and life to change on a new level. Every individual, organization and government system has had to deal with these changes rapidly, with little preparation or precedent to base their decisions on. Professors who have never taught classes online were asked to, within a week, completely change their teaching format for multiple classes, all while dealing with their own personal lives as the world around us changes. They deserve a grace period for our understanding. 

Further, it is also important to reflect that while teaching online classes is new for professors, taking online classes is also new for many students. If you find yourself at a loss from a new learning format, you also deserve to give yourself a grace period for adjusting to this new way of life and learning. If grades falter, or classes feel harder, it is not a reflection of your effort or worth as a student. We are in an incredibly difficult and rapidly changing time, which places new burdens on everyone’s shoulders. Give yourself the time and understanding you need to make it through. 

 Moving forward, remember that it is natural to grieve and feel waves of emotion when it comes to the rest of our online semester. Students have been sent away from their friends, and for seniors, there are still so many questions as to whether rites of passage, such as graduation, will be able to happen. But even though our semester was cut short, there are things you can do to retain a sense of normalcy and be able to enjoy the rest of the semester. 

Holding Zoom or FaceTime meetings with your friends can improve mental health. Attending virtual office hours with your professors can ensure you are grasping the material and new learning practices effectively. Maintain a day-to-day schedule with time for school, exercising, other responsibilities and leisure. 

It can be easy during times like this to feel hopeless, sad and angry. But together, the Black Bear community can emerge from this pandemic stronger than ever. While UMaine students may have scattered across the nation and world, and not everyone was able to remain in Orono, UMaine will always be here for its students.

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