ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — Dr. Denny Wilkins, professor of journalism, put it best.
Things have erupted quickly this week amid the Coronavirus pandemic, and it’s a time of adjustment for everyone on the SBU campus.
Dominos continued to fall quickly as the week progressed. On Wednesday, SBU announced that all on-campus activities, starting Friday at 5 p.m., would be canceled or suspended. On Thursday, the NCAA canceled all remaining winter and spring Division I sports.
Friday afternoon, SBU joined the already large list of schools to suspend in-person classes. Starting no later than Wednesday, SBU students will take online classes until at least March 27, according to a university press release. The campus will remain open, since students have been given the option to stay or to return to their homes.
Tom Missel, SBU’s chief communications officer, said the university received feedback from students before making its decisions.
“By today, as the crisis continued to unfold across the nation all week at what felt like light speed, some things became apparent,” Missel told TAPinto Greater Olean. “There was a great divide in the number of students we heard from who wanted to stay, who felt safer here, and those who wanted to go home.”
Many students, who live in high-risk areas, told SBU that they feel safer on campus at the moment, according to Missel.
“Many students have expressed to us that they do feel safer here, including some who live in higher risk areas,” Missel said. “I would hope parents in those areas would advise their kids to stay here.”
One of those students, Clinton Afful, a junior, said students from the New York City area should strongly consider staying on campus.
Because there are no cases of COVID-19 in Cattaraugus County, Afful said he is staying on campus.
“With zero cases within our 50-mile radius, I think it is wise for students to stay here and avoid travel to places with cases as we can certainly bring them back after the two weeks break,” Afful told TAPinto Greater Olean.
Anthony Adams, a freshman from Philadelphia, expressed similar sentiments.
"Yeah, I think that staying on campus is safer because the virus isn't here,” Adams said. “SBU is located between two very small towns with little interaction from outsiders, so there's really no chance of people getting it here. Every opportunity to limit large groups interacting with each other is a positive."
For more information on the Coronavirus in the Greater Olean area, visit TAPinto Greater Olean's Coronvirus Updates page, which is updated continuously.
Patty Rice, mother of SBU senior Nick Ventura, said the decision to let students stay on campus pays off financially too. Some students can’t afford to spontaneously travel home.
"I think Bonaventure made one of the better decisions to let people stay or go versus just sending everyone home,” Rice said. “ Not everyone has the financial means or travel availability to get home." And she applauded the university for giving what she called "a safe alternative."
The decision also benefits seniors, who want to enjoy their last semester as SBU students.
Seniors Mitch DiPirro and Sam Hoefling spoke to that.
“This is the best-case scenario given the circumstances,” DiPirro said. “No one, especially seniors, want to be sent home early and ruin the rest of our senior year. I think the school did everything right.”
Hoefling said, “I'm glad they gave students the options to stay on campus, especially me being a senior, as I’d like to be able to spend my final semester here on campus.”
Others who chose to leave campus still spoke highly of SBU’s decision.
Mike Laurrie, a junior, packed up his belongings and left for his home in Niagara Falls.
“I think this is a necessary step in the process," Laurrie said. "I think giving students the option of staying or leaving is beneficial to everyone and gives students and parents the autonomy to do what they feel is best for their safety.”
Ian Joseph, a junior, said he too enjoys the flexibility of the situation. He added that this decision also gives SBU time to plan for what’s next in an unpredictable situation.
“Those that wanted to stick around and enjoy a finite amount of time with their friends are able to do so in a safe environment, and those that want to head home and be with family during this time can do the same," Joseph said. "I also feel that this temporary suspension of face-to-face classes is
in part of a larger effort for the university to continue planning. This gives the administration time to weigh out other factors in the case that we may need to continue with online courses for the rest of the semester.”
SBU professors, for the most part, did not seem surprised in the wake of the decision.
The Rev. David Couturier, associate professor of theology, said he has been preparing to teach online classes for two weeks and added the Coronavirus gives SBU faculty members an opportunity to show their students how to make the best of a difficult situation.
“As teachers and learners in a global economy, we are 'on the frontiers of complexity,' ” Couturier said. "We need to practice and teach with the agility, creativity and flexibility required of all businesses today. The Coronavirus gives us the chance to do it and show our students how it is done, while keeping everyone safe. I think our students will learn a lot from this.”
David Kassnoff, lecturer of journalism and strategic communication, said he has been teaching online classes for more than five years. He said the adjustment for him and his students should not be an issue since today's students have grown up with technology.
“Students now were born with smart phones in their diapers,” Kasnoff said. “You guys have grown up in a digital world. You’re perfectly comfortable getting information through a technological resource.”
Wilkins, in anticipation of the impending decision, said he reached out to Pauline Hoffmann, associate professor of journalism, and she gave him helpful tips on how to use Zoom, an online teaching program.
“Thankfully we have Pauline," Wilkins said. "I sent her an email today and said, ‘I really need to know the following.' Next thing you know, I get a Zoom meeting invitation. I wanted to learn how to use Zoom, and Pauline was on Zoom showing me a few things.”
While Wilkins acknowledged his students will need to adapt, he noted that course requirements will not change.
“Deadlines are going to stay the same," he said. "They’ll be submitting their work by email. I’ll send back their graded work by PDFs via email.”
While students and professors supported SBU’s decisions, Wilkins and Kassnoff said the university could have done a better job at being consistent with updates throughout the week.
Wilkins said SBU had little routine in updating the campus community.
“If the university had, for example, said we’re going to send the notice at 10 a.m. every morning and 5 p.m. every afternoon,” Wilkins said. “Even if there’s no news, you’re still going to hear from us, so people know there’s a specific time to pay attention. That regularity. That’s routine. That’s comfort.”
Kassnoff, who worked in public relations for more than a decade, said SBU did not inform the campus community enough and explained that in a crisis situation an organization can never over communicate.
Missel said he didn’t recall establishing a time for updates. In a rapidly changing situation, he said SBU did the best job it could to inform the campus community.
"I don’t recall there being an established timeline for updates,” Missel said. “We provided them as necessary, and as soon as humanly possible, via the Notice Board once new information surfaced that needed to be communicated.”
Kassnoff elaborated, “I worked in public relations for a couple of decades, and in my experiences, you cannot over communicate in a crisis situation. Instead of emails, it would’ve been more meaningful if senior administrative leadership were visible. And they used more than email. Should there have been a live Facebook chat with the president, the provost and the communications officer? Yeah.”
Missel said he could not be prouder of the way his staff handled the situation “in a chaotic week unlike any that most of us have ever experienced.”
As students decide whether to stay on campus or return home, Wilkins, Kassnoff and Couturier and other faculty members will be prepared for the task ahead and ready for what comes next.
“I suspect faculty will adapt," Wilkins said. "It won’t be perfect, but we have a responsibility to make sure that people who want to be taught, get taught.”
TAPinto Greater Olean reporters Layne Dowdall, Connor Griffin, Jeff Uveino and Nick Ventura contributed to this report.
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