By Dalila Bevab

Senior Riley Quinn had just rejoined residential life as a resident’s assistant (RA) in January and felt as if things were going well. Two months later, Bellarmine notified students that classes were going to be online and they needed to go home. Quinn lost her job—a job she said she was just starting to love.

“I was expecting a great end to my junior year,” she said. Quinn didn’t lose hope, though. When restaurants and stores started to re-open in June, she said she became more optimistic. But she said she knew school wouldn’t be going back to normal anytime soon because she followed the statistics and rising number of cases.

“I have always had high expectations for my senior year of college,” she said. Quinn had plans to get a great internship at a company she really liked and to go to restaurants and bars with her friends.

“Senior week is something I’ve always looked forward to but now I’m not sure it will happen or if we’ll even graduate to person,” Quinn said.  

Students have struggled with the reality of online and hyflex classes and what that means for the rest of the academic year. Technical difficulties, postponed sporting events and the chance the school year might not go back to normal are some of the realizations students had to face.

Expectations weren’t high right before the semester started and some students expected the transition to hyflex and online classes to be incredibly stressful. Quinn said the first week was stressful because although everyone was trying, it still felt as if “everything is still up in the air.” She said the class structures were confusing for her and she was struggling to keep up. But she was pleasantly surprised when a professor was understanding after she had accidentally missed an assignment on Moodle.

Other students expressed similar feelings of frustration during their first few weeks back. Sophomore Becca Ihle said the technical difficulties were frustrating because students and professors had to learn the new online systems and how classes would be structured. But she said is glad that the professors are working to make sure that the semester is “invaluable to us.”

Another sophomore, Maddie Plank, said, “It’s difficult to study when you have three other students you live with that are all on Team meetings.” Finding a quiet space to join class is difficult for her, she said.

This academic year is Bellarmine’s first official year as a D-1 school, and the fall semester was supposed to be packed with weekend soccer games and cross-country matches. The ASUN Conference announced in late July that fall sports would be postponed due to the pandemic, resulting in a change of plans for dozens of student-athletes.

Connor Range, the goalkeeper on the men’s soccer team, said the soccer team is now training with hopes of resuming games in the spring season. The fall schedule had included big games for men’s soccer, with opponents such as UofL, UK and Florida Gulf Coast, and Range said the Knights had “planned on having another record-breaking season.”

Range said the experience of being a fall sports student-athlete with the season cancelled has been stressful. He planned to play with Louisville City FC over the summer and to take some classes, but he was not able to do either. “So overall, there has been some pretty extensive damage done,” he said.

 The Knights still have practice three to four times a week, two hours for each session, so the team members aren’t letting this minor shift in plans disrupt their grind, Range said. “The athletic training staff has done a great job in getting the athletes healthy,” he said.

While the soccer team was practicing hard, COVID struck, and over half of the players were in quarantine or had contracted the virus by the first week of school. Many returning players were out, but Range said he was excited to get some of the returning players back for more high-energy training sessions.

Cross country runner Katie Odell said she expected this “year to be full of big competitions, new places to travel within the ASUN Conference, and an overall shift in Bellarmine’s athletic atmosphere.”

Bellarmine has conducted random COVID tests for athletes every two weeks. Odell said the team has received negative tests since the beginning, which has allowed the runners to continue practicing together. The team still practices six times a week, and the coach has designed mock races for them to have fun and compete with each other.

Students who remember what college was like pre-COVID can’t help but feel sorry for freshmen who have had to experience this semester virtually and behind masks. But Esha Khan isn’t letting COVID ruin her first year of college. Khan provides an inspiring perspective behind the seemingly scary new way of learning and socializing in the age of COVID.

“At first you have all these great expectations for a new chapter of your life,” she said. “I’m a firm believer of being the architect of your own experience and painting your own canvas… but in this sense you get to make a whole new piece of art. This college is your canvas and whatever art you leave behind here is the legacy you leave behind.”

By being more optimistic about the situation, Khan said things become less scary and frightening and the Bellarmine community should continue to look forward and take Khan’s advice.

What about the rest of the school year? Range said Bellarmine officially have done the best they can in handling the transition to hyflex and online classes. He said, “The teachers are doing a great job being transparent and working with us all.”

Odell hopes that because cross country feeds into the track and field season in the spring, the ASUN Conference won’t cancel the spring season so the fall sports have at least a chance to compete.

As far as classes go, Odell said she expects Bellarmine will remain one of the few schools to stay open given its strict response to COVID. “It is important to remain patient and flexible during this time,” she said.

Khan said, “Life is hard, it’s supposed to be hard, it’s meant to be hard, but your determination, your grit, your resilience that you show throughout that entire process is what really speaks volume.”

Some students like Quinn are holding out hope for a last hoorah in their final year. “Bellarmine seems to be doing well, but things could change so fast like they’ve been doing the past six months,” Quinn said, “I would love to think I’d get to graduate normally and have a somewhat normal senior year but like I said, who knows? I’m trying to stay positive but it’s hard.”

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