Despite Anxieties, Arts Students are Eager to Return to Campus


Sydney Stam

(Graphic by Sydney Stam | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Heather Graham, Assistant Copy Chief, Arts Writer


When COVID-19 changed the way we engage with the world around us, schools and universities were some of the first places in Utah to see an abrupt shift to remote settings and virtual communication. The change left educational communities reeling and grappling to figure out how to maintain the best educational experiences they could.

Fast forward to now — the weight of the pandemic is still casting shadows of uncertainty over future plans and new “normals.” For many students in the arts, much of their anxiety around health and safety is overshadowed by their desire to be back to in-person classes, interacting with classmates and peers on-campus.

Missing the Classroom Connections

Many arts students are looking toward the upcoming semester with anticipation. “I am taking in-person classes in the fall, and I am feeling pretty excited for it, honestly,” said musical theatre major, Michaela Hoskins. The pandemic was hard for arts students, especially with classroom experiences relying heavily on interactions with peers, and common themes included wanting to share physical space and get off of Zoom.

Cayden Turnbow, a film and media arts major referenced the strain of remote learning. “I am extremely excited to return to in-person classes. Zoom fatigue is real and, while some classes definitely benefited from being online, the majority of film classes did not.”

Serena Kozusko, a 2021 graduate from the theatre program and the College of Fine Arts’ convocation speaker, said, “We suddenly couldn’t do a lot of the things we had in class previously, like partner dancing, singing in groups, doing anything without masks and attending class with all enrolled students in the room.” Danny Borba, a fellow theatre student, added to Kozusko’s sentiment, saying, “The social aspect of learning is something that I missed, and it usually helped me learn better. Also, the nature of my field usually requires in-person activity because it is theater and, even though my department did amazing at adjusting, it was still missing.”

With so much of what pre-pandemic instruction was like gone, motivation was another factor for arts students. “My bedroom became my classroom, so I found it was easier to simply flop on my bed and sleep than do school work! Things felt less ‘official,’ and I found it difficult to get in a mindset conducive to learning,” said film and media arts student Bella Parkinson.

Best-Laid Plans for Return

As of Summer 2021, the university is planning for a phased return to pre-pandemic status for fall. Recent guidance says masks are not mandatory in most campus settings, but acknowledges that wearing a mask is an effective means of preventing infection for both unvaccinated and vaccinated people. A survey of U students and faculty indicated that over 90% of responders were fully vaccinated or would be by the fall.

Several arts students expressed that they would do most anything to get back to instruction as per usual. “I’m vaccinated so I’m not too worried about the transition but would happily make any adjustments — masks, distance, etc. — if asked to,” Turnbow said. There is a readiness to return, but not without taking safety and security into account. Cameron Haskins, film and media arts major said, “The biggest recurring challenge I faced in these pandemic semesters was just a sense of overwhelming anxiety each term not knowing what was gonna happen not only in school, but in the world.”

These plans are giving students hope for a more normal semester, but students know things can change suddenly. “Jumping between the studio and Zoom ballet when we had COVID scares was difficult to manage. It’s hard to dance in your living room and feel as though you are making progress in your craft,” said Luna Esmerode, a ballet and English double major. “We were living day to day not knowing what our futures looked like, and that stress and anxiety definitely affected me and my classmates in and out of school,” said theater major Cambrie Oyler.

Uncertainty has played a large role in students’ experiences over the past year and a half but, despite any anxiety, many arts students seem ready to return to the things they love about performing. “I think most student artists are ready to be back in-person and work in a space that you can connect and collaborate with other artists,” harp performance student Merinda Christensen said. “As a musician, a lot of what I do requires being with other musicians and I missed that last year.”


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