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Pandemic Brings About Significant Changes in CAU's Educational Process

Students and faculty struggle to adjust to the new normal.

WORDS: Shannay Porter

PHOTOS: Cottonbro Studio

In the last few years, Clark Atlanta University has experienced significant changes in response to COVID-19 which has affected all members of the university including students and faculty.

In spring of 2020, the university made the decision to shut down the campus and continue the school year virtually. Students attended virtual classes from spring 2020 to spring 2021 and many students faced difficulties in adjusting to their new reality.

"During the pandemic, I was forced to return home and take on the big sister duties I left behind. For the most part, I was able to do my assignments and get to class on time," Auriel Goodall, a recent graduate from Clark Atlanta stated. "However, it was hard to always stay focused when I was also taking care of my household. I felt as though I was tackling two different lives but eventually I found a balance and a routine that worked for me."

Nationwide, the switch to online teaching, generally had an adverse effect on students' learning. In a report in October by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, tests among hundreds of thousands of students across the country showed a decline in scores because of the impact of the pandemic.

To ensure that every student had access to the online curriculum, CAU issued Dell laptops to all students and even members of the faculty who needed them.

Professors also faced some challenges with virtual classes. Dr. Kelly Delong of the English Department described his experience stating, “I found teaching online during the pandemic to be very odd. Most of the students didn’t turn their cameras on, so I didn’t know if they were there or not. Most of time, I assumed they weren’t. I don’t think my students learned much.”

Professors were required to be more lenient with homework and their Zoom sessions were recorded for students living in different time zones as well as for students who missed class due to illness or other issues.

“Virtually learning is certainly not my favorite, I prefer a hybrid model but…the pandemic did shift my perspective and helped me understand that a lot can still be done outside of a classroom. I did encounter connectivity issues and time zone differences with made online learning a bit more difficult,” Morgan Salmon an international Clark Atlanta student stated.

During the summer of 2020 professors were also required to take workshops to learn how to teach virtually. “At first, the workshops were frustrating because I didn’t always know what I was doing, but then I realized how easy most of what we were being taught really was and I relaxed,” Dr. DeLong stated.

The pandemic and the sudden shift to virtual learning greatly impacted students’ academic performance in different ways. Dr. Delong observed that students were less engaged in the work during the pandemic than they were before because they were back at home where family issues and jobs became their priorities.

While some students experienced lower grades others saw their grades get better. “I would say that I experienced quite positive results in my grades. I’ve always had high expectations for myself and I just refused to let up regardless of being in a live classroom or not. I would also say it definitely helped to have teachers like Dr. Medha Talpade and Dr. Diane Plummer that were steadfast in their approach to student success and encouragement,” Clark Atlanta student Avery Howell stated.

The pandemic not only affected students’ academic performance but also affected their extra-curricular activities. “It affected us a lot we wasn’t able to practice and everything was held virtual. I didn’t like it because you had other schools practicing but with us being in Atlanta they shut everything down. When we returned back to campus, we couldn’t walk in large groups. So they would split the team up into three different groups and everybody had different times they could workout. We still had to remain six feet apart and they made us wear masks while having to workout,” Clark Atlanta football athlete Daeshawn Osborne stated.

Goodall who is also a former member of the Mighty Marching Panthers stated that not being able to connect with her band members in person made the relationship between band members awkward, however, this issue was later resolved. She also stated that practice was done virtually which was difficult because of connectivity issues.

During spring 2021, a selected number of students were allowed on campus. These students included first-time freshmen, graduating seniors, athletes, and new transfer students. “When I came to campus spring 2021, it was nothing like I expected. I didn’t have a roommate, and the campus was empty so I didn’t have the opportunity to make many friends. My classes were online so I didn’t have much reason to leave my dorm which aided in how horrible my transition was from online to in person classes,” Clark Atlanta student Jade Davis stated about her experience as a first-time freshman during spring 2021.

In May 2021, the university held two graduation ceremonies on the same day to celebrate the Class of 2020, as well as the Class of 2021. The ceremony for the Class of 2020 was held at 8 a.m. and the guest speaker was politician Stacey Abrams. The Class of 2021 had their ceremony at 3 p.m. and the guest speaker was politician Bakari Sellers.

In July 2021 Clark Atlanta president, Dr. George T. French, Jr., announced that the university would clear all student account balances from Spring 2020 to Summer 2021. The university received the CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund which allowed the university to clear student account balances as well as purchase laptops for students and faculty.

Fall 2021 saw a full return of students, faculty and staff to the university campus. Before returning to campus students were required to upload their vaccination records to the Panther Health Portal and have it verified by staff. Students who could not be vaccinated for religious or medical reasons were required to fill out an exemption request. Unvaccinated students and students who were not fully vaccinated were also required to show a negative COVID test taken no more than five days prior to arrival.

Some students arrived on campus to find that their dorms were not ready for them to move into which sparked outrage within the CAU community while other students had a better move-in experience.

During the semester students, faculty and staff were required to get tested weekly at the Davage Auditorium, students would also be randomly selected to get PCR tests. Students who missed their weekly COVID test were likely to receive disciplinary action. All members of Clark Atlanta were advised to practice social distancing as well as wear face masks. The university also increased its sanitation practices, made masks and hand sanitizer available all over the campus.

Since the start of the fall 2022 semester the university has relaxed its COVID-related regulations. It has done so by no longer requiring weekly COVID testing and making masks optional outdoors. Students, faculty, and staff are slowly experiencing a return to the pre-pandemic way of life as the university continues to reverse some of its changes.


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