ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — Mitch DiPirro, a senior at St. Bonaventure University, can speak for all SBU students. While the news was inevitable, he sat in stunned silence with his friends of four years in the living room of his off-campus house. 

David Malchak, also a senior, said he’s left with a numb feeling. 

Kyle Haller, a senior, said, “This isn’t how it was supposed to be.”

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SBU joined the large list of colleges and universities around the world moving classes online for the rest of the spring semester. According to an SBU news release, students living on campus must pack their belongings and move out by 8 p.m. Monday. 

On March 13, SBU announced that it would hold classes online from March 16 through March 27. Although Cattaraugus County has no confirmed cases of COVID-19, SBU realized that a March 30 return to the classroom was not possible.

SBU administrators were hopeful students could return after the Easter break in mid-April, but realized that would not be possible either, according to Tom Missel, SBU’s chief communication officer.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Thursday mandate to reduce workforce size to 25 percent played a big role in the university's decision that same day to close the university for the remainder of the semester. Friday, the governor announced a 100 percent closing of all but the essential work force.

“As the week progressed, it started to become clearer that after Easter was highly unlikely, especially yesterday when Gov. Cuomo announced the reduction in workforce size and the number of confirmed cases began rising rapidly,” Missel told TAPinto Greater Olean. 

MAY COMMENCEMENT CANCELED

In addition to in-person classes being suspended, SBU’s May 17 commencement ceremony has been canceled. According to SBU, President Dr. Dennis DePerro is committed to hold a commencement ceremony for the class of 2020. However, that date and time remains unknown.

“Obviously, we’re hopeful a rescheduled graduation could be in the summer, but who knows how long this crisis might play out? Regardless, Dr. DePerro’s commitment is to hold commencement sometime this year because he recognizes how important it is to students and their families,” Missel wrote. 

Trevor North, an SBU senior, said while the news hit him hard, he understands that it needed to happen to ensure safety for all. He said he appreciates SBU’s decision to move commencement to a later date. Like most seniors, he needs closure on the four years he has had at SBU. 

“Graduation being postponed is something that I’m honestly unsure of,” North said. “I am happy that it is not canceled because I need a time and place to say goodbye to my Bonaventure family. This place has become my home and having to leave my home is something I thought I had more time to prepare for.”

Calsey Bump, president of the senior class, expressed similar feelings. Bump said while she knew the decision was impending and agrees with it, she still feels cheated of closure in regard to saying goodbyes to campus. 

“I am heartbroken by the news of graduation being postponed, but I am blessed that St. Bonaventure isn’t outright canceling what would be the end to our four years here,” Bump said. “I am thankful that I am part of such a caring university that they are committed to conducting a commencement later on in the year to recognize all the hard work that the graduates have put into the past four years.”

However, Bump said she fears graduation won’t be the same at a later date.

“I am concerned that many graduates and families will not be able to come back for the postponed date as many will already have new jobs, are planning to move away, or won’t be able to make the trip down again,” Bump said. “I hope that when re-planning, we are still able to hold all the events that we would’ve had before, so that we can feel the full experience of transitioning from a Bonaventure student to a Bonaventure alum.”

STUDENT CONCERNS

Other students have different concerns. According to SBU’s release, students living on campus must move out of their dorms by 8 p.m. Monday. SBU will make special accommodations for international students, for those who do not feel safe returning to high-risk coronavirus zones and to those who have limited access to technology for continuing their studies. 

Andy Rincon, a senior from New York City, expressed an abundance of concern over SBU’s move-out decision. Because he has elderly parents and lacks the resources to move out in a short amount of time, Rincon remains on campus scrambling to make plans. 

“I got to pack and find a way to get my things home in the span of a weekend. That may be enough time for many students on this campus, but not all of us,” Rincon said. “My parents nor I have the resources around us to just fix the situation of moving with a simple extra car ride. They asked students to submit a request to stay on campus. Many, including myself, are from NYC. They are literally sending us to a high-risk area. On a personal note, my parents are elderly individuals who don’t have a strong immune system anymore.”

Rincon continued, “So now here I’m sitting, thinking about how I'm going to get my stuff home, how I can keep my parents safe if I’m forced to go home, and how I’m going to afford to get home and back to pick things up because not everything will fit in my car.”

Janayzia Johnson, a senior from Rhode Island, finds herself in a similar situation. 

“I’m upset,” Johnson said. “The school only gave us four days to move out. It’s not that easy for all of us. I live eight hours away. My aunt can’t just come and pick me up.”

The decision also impacts students who live closer to campus. 

Ciara McGrane, a sophomore from Niagara County, said the university should give students more time to move out. 

“The university informed us Thursday, March 19, that we would only have the next three days to move out,” McGrane said. “I live two hours away, so I can’t go back and forth to move things out of my garden apartment. It’s going to be a pain to pack in one day.”

Missel, in response to student concerns regarding the move-out process, said students who need more time can arrange different times by sending an email to residence life. 

Xiao-Ning Zhang, professor of biology, said it may not be best for students to travel back to SBU at this time. However, she applauds SBU’s willingness to make special accommodations for some students.

“Travels, especially if in a confined space of public transportation, increase risk of contracting the virus," Zhang said. "The public message out there is, ‘STAY HOME, SAVE LIVES.’ Yet, the university is asking students to travel.”

Missel addressed the reasons for having students return to their homes.

“Given the gravity of the situation, as the number of cases continues to rise, and younger people are beginning to feel more of the impact as more information comes to the forefront about COVID-19, the sooner we can get more people home, the better,” Missel said. “We’re in better shape than most right now, with our county still yet to have one confirmed case. But I think we all realize that’s just a matter of time.”

Missel continued, “And we clearly stated in the communication to students and parents, who received the same message today, students unable to remove their belongings during this four-day window ending March 23 at 8 p.m. can email resed@sbu.edu to arrange an alternate pickup date.”

CHALLENGE OF MOVING CLASSES ONLINE

The biggest obstacle for both students and professors, though, are online classes. 

McGrane said she has been mostly frustrated with her online learning experiences thus far. 

“I also think the online school is worse because I have no idea what’s going on in any of my classes!” McGrane said. “I have a class regularly scheduled for Monday, Wednesday, Friday, giving a test on Saturday. How does that make sense?” 

Johnson said while she understands online classes are necessary, the in-classroom experience is something experience that students will not get back. 

“I didn’t pay for online classes,” Johnson said. “I know that’s something they can’t control but at the same time, that’s a chunk of college that we’re all losing. That experience is something they can never give us back.”

While students voice concern, professors continue to make their best efforts in order to get the best out of an unprecedented situation. 

Zhang said while labs cannot be done, she feels comfortable and confident teaching online. In terms of exams, Zhang said she plans to proctor students on Zoom while they take exams Moodle. 

“We can't do web lab experiments on Zoom,” Zhang said. “Fortunately, we spent some extra time last week to speed things up so students are at a stopping point of their lab research projects and can now just focus on data analyses and writing up lab assignments on the computer during scheduled lab time. But we have not had an exam since this past Monday yet. We will see how that goes. I imagine that I will deliver the exam on Moodle and proctor on zoom. It will be interesting.”

Paul Brawdy, director of physical education and sports studies, is taking a positive approach, and said he has an excellent group of students, who like him, strive to make the most of this situation. 

“We all had to learn some new things, but we're pulling together and doing what is needed,” Brawdy said.  “I'm confident that we'll be fine as far as classes go.  A great deal of credit really needs to go to our incredible team in instructional technology.”

In an email, Phillip Payne, the history department chair, summed up the switch to online instruction as a "massive exercise in problem solving, flexibility, and patience."

"I haven’t found it a technological problem but a combination of things — we’re all a little freaked out by the pandemic — so adding this massive move to online into the equation it’s a bit much. The disruption makes it hard to concentrate because there is so much going on — redoing classes, learning new technology, communicating with students, figuring things out like we’re all now working and studying at home. That means office space, increased internet, and not tripping over each other."

Payne said he keeps in mind that his students "face challenges," and he elaborated:

"Some don’t have internet at home.  There are a wide variety of devices being used – PCs, Macs, Chromebooks, phones (Android and IOs). Some students have other challenges that don’t have anything to do with the pandemic or going online but add to those problems.

"Then there is the constant barrage of news stories, emails, and other messages that need dealt with,' he stated. "It’s putting out digital fires when I need to be concentrating on how to design a course, something that would normally take a lot of time compressed into a few days followed by flying by the seat of your pants."

SENIORS HOPE FOR CLOSURE

As seniors prepare to move on, they hope for closure.

Giving a bit of advice for SBU students who still have time left in their college careers, North said COVID-19 has taught him to take nothing in life — big or small — for granted anymore. 

“To my underclassmen friends: Enjoy the years you have, don’t take them for granted,” North said

He continued, “To my fellow seniors who have become family, thinking about leaving you all without saying a proper goodbye is heartbreaking. I want my family to know how much I love and appreciate them, because we can get through it together.”

TAPinto Greater Olean reporters Ashley Gallagher, Layne Dowdall, Connor Griffin, Hannah Legacy and Jeff Uveino contributed to this report.

For more information on the Coronavirus in the Greater Olean area, visit TAPinto Greater Olean's Coronavirus Updates page, which is updated continuously.

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