What you need to know about how the pandemic impacted the Ithaca College community
A Note: While it would have been ideal to include all the voices of those who have been affected, a select few members of our editorial team explored multiple angles and collectively reported on everything we encountered. We recognize that our reportage does not give proper attention to the LGBTQA+ community, which has been disproportionately impacted by the novel Coronavirus pandemic, nor does it bring forth the entirety of issues facing the greater Ithaca and Ithaca College community. Buzzsaw would like to thank those who provided insight into their personal experiences and challenges during this difficult time, as this piece couldn’t have been accomplished without you.
On March 6, 2020, Mayson Sonntag sat in the basement of Feinstein’s/54 Below club in New York City watching his friends perform in their senior musical theatre showcase. The next morning, he flew to Florida with the intent to spend spring break at Disney with friends. On March 11, however, he awoke to an email from President Shirley M. Collado notifying students that Ithaca College would remain closed for the next month.
So began a hectic travel journey back to Sonntag’s hometown of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, where he finally arrived on March 15.
“I was very lucky,” said Sonntag. “When I travel I always have my Visa with me. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to get back into the country.”
As per Canadian policy, Sonntag entered self-isolation in his home and planned to be isolated for 14 days.
“When I woke up the next day, I had a bit of a tight chest, a bit of a cough—I was a little confused but, hey, I’ve had colds before—it just seemed like a cold,” he said. “ As the days went by the tightness got worse. I didn’t have a fever, but my throat was really hurting. I had a bad headache and I was really tired all the time, so my mom thought it was better for me just to get tested.”
Five days later, Mayson Sonntag tested positive for COVID-19. His life, like so many others, would never be the same.
The Long Road Home
Kevin Gyasi-Frempah is an Ithaca College student who lives in Texas—26 hours away from Ithaca by car and nearly three hours away by plane. His typical commute home also requires two connecting flights. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the college asked most students to leave campus while it closed briefly and had online classes for two weeks. Gyasi-Frempah asked the Office of Residential Life (ResLife) if he could stay on campus until the college returned to business as usual, but he encountered a problem.
“They told me they would only let international students whose countries have travel bans stay on campus,” he said. Despite the extreme inconvenience, Gyasi-Frempah would have to leave campus. His plans changed once again when the college announced that remote instruction would replace on-site learning for the remainder of the semester.
Gyasi-Frempah flew to his home state of Texas, but had a layover in Philadelphia. He said that he took all of the necessary precautions to lessen his chances of contracting COVID-19.
“I even had alcohol wipes and I probably used 10 of them to wipe down my airplane seat for the first plane ride,” he said. “And for the second plane ride I wiped that [seat] down too.”
Ithaca College is home to students from 78 countries, and the question of whether they would be able to return home weighed heavily on most international students. Sebastián de la Paz, a sophomore theatre studies major from Colombia, was torn at first over what to do.
“My mom really wanted me to come back while the border was still open, but I explained to her that testing was really limited here and the government hadn’t taken any steps yet,” he said. “So I knew the chances were that cases were really high and we just didn’t know about it yet.”
Like other Residential Assistants (RAs), the college originally asked de la Paz to remain on campus until April 5 to assist with the anticipated move-out. Once the campus suspended classes for the rest of the semester, however, he knew there was no going back. RAs received payment through April 5 and de la Paz’s other campus jobs, both as a President’s Host and office worker in the Office of International Affairs, had been terminated indefinitely. He also said that inflation in Colombia made it difficult for him to receive money from his parents.
In a recent statement, the college’s International Club expressed concern for members of its community: “Many of the international students have gone back home to their countries to be with their families or have remained in Ithaca or other parts of the U.S. And it moves us greatly how the international community has come to support and remain connected with one another in these times.”
No Walk in the Park
After pro-fighter and public Jewish figure Aaron Greenberg dies in an anti-Semitic attack, his sister, Maddie, revisits key moments from their past in an effort to understand how boxing acted as a vessel for Aaron’s faith and humanity.
This is the logline for Ringside, a film directed by Michael Kaplan for his Senior Media Thesis class.
Kaplan is a senior cinema and photography major with a concentration in cinema production. He is one of many students who have since had to cease moving forward with their thesis films because of COVID-19. Kaplan said that he is one of the few seniors in his class determined to find a way to move forward with production after graduating in 2020.
“This doesn’t mean that it’s dead in the water,” he said. “I’m one of the few that decided this is still happening. I’m not going to let a project that means a lot to me, die—I can’t let it just disappear.”
Nicole Villalobos, a senior television-radio major, was producing Ringside for her Production Management class. She had also been working on her own documentary film prior to the college’s transition to remote instruction. Villalobos said that her and Kaplan were ready to shoot their film after spring break.
“We had several drafts of the script ready, we had our talent casted, we had locations locked, we had all of our props, all of our costumes—we were ready,” Villalobos said. “The week we would have gotten back from spring break was when we would have filmed.”
Of the 27 projects throughout the class’ three sections, only 10 have been able to go into production. Most students are working in teams of two, with just two individuals doing solo projects—only one student opted to take the class “incomplete” and will return in the fall to complete their project. Diane Gayeski, dean of the Park School of Communications, said in her virtual address last March that the school may offer services to students looking to complete their thesis films.
“For seniors, I know that this is especially complicated, we want to reach out to each and every one of you individually to see how best we can get you to complete your requirements,” Gayeski said. “I know that many of you are counting on using advanced equipment to produce a final thesis and we will make sure you have access to help you develop a portfolio piece that you are expecting.”
The school offered to ship equipment directly to students and suggested that those enrolled in production classes return in August for “intensive sessions” to meet their course requirements. Professor Steve Gordon teaches Production Management, Program Development for Entertainment Media and a section of Senior Media Thesis. He said that even in controlled environments, the few students who requested equipment realized that trying to shoot their films posed more risks than results.
“It wouldn’t be responsible to say ‘go out and shoot’ because we’re on lockdown,” Gordon said, adding that he “assured them that whenever they shoot, even if it’s after they graduate, I’ll help them supervise whatever they’re doing.”
Professor Bradley Rappa has all 51 students enrolled in Senior Media Thesis and, like Gordon, expressed his commitment to helping seniors who still want to make their films when it’s time to do so.
“I still want to give them the opportunity to have that experience even though they may not be officially registered for any courses at Ithaca College,” Rappa said. “I want to figure out a way to accommodate any one of their needs so that they can actually produce the work that they’ve set out to produce this semester.”
Since the college moved to remote instruction, Senior Media Thesis professors have altered their class curriculums to adapt to the unprecedented circumstances of COVID-19. Instead of requiring a final cumulative project for all students, professors have shifted the focus of the class toward preparing for the eventual production and completion of thesis films. Those who were able to use the footage they had to create rough and final cuts followed the original requirements of the course. Rappa said that in his Zoom classes, students workshopped the films of their peers.
Emma Zarabet, a cinema and photography major with a concentration in cinema production, was enrolled in Senior Media Thesis. She said that, like others in her class, she was not able to shoot the footage needed to move forward with her film.
“We’re all just stuck at such different points,” Zarabet said. “Some people didn’t film anything and I’m kind of in this middle ground [where] I can’t really edit a full film… so it’s a weird spot.”
Without a film to share of their own, some students have been reluctant to participate in workshopping the films of their peers.
“People have less motivation to show up and put work in because everyone feels kind of stuck,” Zarabet said. “Obviously I’m so happy for my friends and classmates that they’re able to make their films, and I love being able to see their work. I just wish I was able to see everyone’s completed films and show them mine, too. For some people, the class just seems to have no point anymore which is sad to see.”
Professors have found ways to assign work that will be productive for students’ professional development. Rappa said that he required his students to create a digital production notebook. This serves to equip students with the materials needed to eventually follow through with their films. The notebook includes director and crew biographies, actor headshots, shooting locations, digital graphic assets for social media, shot lists and storyboards.
“I’m asking them to put the cart before the horse,” he said. “All I can ask for them [is to] be completely ready to go into production, so that when things sort of settle down a little bit they can reschedule with their cast or crew, or recast or get new crew members.”
Evidently, professors are working to gear students toward their professional development. Rappa required that students in his section of Senior Media Thesis who did not go into production convert their storyboards into what is called an animatic, something typically used by animators to determine pacing. He said that this conversion helped his students figure out how they want to graphically structure their films. They also have to create a short trailer for their film on FilmFreeway—a free-to-use site where filmmakers can submit their projects to film festivals and contests. Rappa said that these can be as abstract as students would like and can even be shot using a smartphone.
Gordon said that his students are also spending more time doing assignments for pre-production. Like Rappa, he required his students to use Storyboarder, a free animatics software. Gordon also had his students complete a fleshed-out marketing plan and create content for social media. Students in Gordon’s Production Management classes completed post-production schedules and those in his Program Development for Entertainment Media classes had a crash course in content management, an emerging field about producing for entertainment services and products on the web. Content management focuses on storytellers’ roles in the marketing world and how people both develop and evaluate ideas. Students enrolled in Program Development for Entertainment Media had to create images, social media ads and compile a report, also called a package, on how to establish their audiences. For all of his students, Gordon said that they have the full support of both their instructors and the school.
“When they do their projects, all they have to do is fill in the blanks,” Gordon said. “The school said they’ll support them with equipment and we’ll support them with supervision.”
Although Gayeski suggested intensive courses in late August at the start of the fall 2020 semester, students returning any later will find it difficult for PPECs to allocate them the gear they would need to finish shooting their films.
“It’s pretty difficult for any of them to shoot during the semester if it’s not the first week or two of classes, obviously because all of the gear will be gear-marked for the students who are currently taking all the other production classes,” Rappa said, “Again, that’s… if the college is open for us to be able to physically meet and conduct classes on campus.”
Rappa’s statement came weeks before the college’s May 18 announcement that Monday, October 5 would be the beginning of the 2020-2021 academic year. With this new certainty comes the same anxiety about student productions; whether or not these films can resume production depends on the school’s ability to accommodate both current and former students’ needs.
While there is only one student who will return in the fall of 2020 to retake Senior Media Thesis, there are many individuals whose films remain incomplete—and they too need equipment to finish those projects. If PPECs cannot dish out the equipment they need, it will be up to the students themselves to raise the funds necessary to rent gear, which according to Rappa, is an endeavor that could cost students up to $3,000.
Rappa said that he would make sure that students who return to the college to complete their films have any fees waived.
“I would encourage the administration to allow our students to repeat the course, but to not have to pay for the credits again,” Rappa said.
Rappa said that he knows the potential each and every one of his students has and pointed to the value of their education.
“I want them trying to either create production companies together or to be able to insert themselves somewhere within the production hierarchy that’s quite a few steps above production assistance,” Rappa said. “They could have just gone to Hollywood and hauled cables and worked their way through the system and saved themselves a quarter of a million dollars if that’s what they wanted to do… I’m guessing that that’s not what [students] want from their film education.”
In order to do that, however, Parkies looking to enter the film industry need a foot in the door and, for students like Villalobos, they depend on their cumulative projects to launch their careers. Villalobos will be graduating in the summer of 2020 and added that, like many of her peers, thesis films are a reflection of students’ time at the college.
“It’s not just an exercise and personal expression… this is something that represents everything that you’ve learned and everything that you’re capable of. Your thesis is something that you look forward to your whole time at IC. You’re constantly working towards it and thinking about it,” Villalobos said. “Our major and our industry is such a show versus tell sort-of-thing, so if you don’t have that huge thing to show… what do you have to offer?”
Kaplan said that he’s trying to see this as an opportunity to expand Ringside’s potential.
“I look at this as a blessing in disguise,” he said. “I can’t make it now [but] it’s going to be made, and in the time that I have available to me in quarantine, I’m going to make sure I have all my shot lists put together, all my storyboards put together, my lookbook—everything—so by the time we’re ready to shoot, I can bring more crew on… and I’ll be better suited to make the film when it comes time to do that.”
Aside from the changes made within classes, of which seniors are enrolled, perseverance may be the only way for these students to adapt to the disheartening circumstances brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. Kaplan encouraged his peers to find the silver lining in what appears to be—and for many, is—a troubling and uncertain time.
“You need to be able to look at the silver lining of things,” he insisted. “For those who really wanted to make their film, don’t give up on it—be ready for it, be happy to do it and be prepared.”
For Parkies, it’s been drilled into their heads since S’Park at Park but for most, if not all, college students, internships generate opportunities to network with professionals and gain experience in one’s field of study. More often than not, students cast their credentials into a sea of applications—hoping to be selected by the organizations or companies to which they applied.
Rising juniors and seniors at the college have long sought out internships through Ithaca College New York City (ICNYC), Ithaca College London Center (ICLC) and Ithaca College Los Angeles (ICLA). The college prides itself on these study-away programs because they immerse students in dynamic learning environments and equip them with the valuable, real-world experiences that distinguish Ithaca College students from their peers.
On April 2, La Jerne Terry Cornish, Provost and Senior and Vice President of Academic Affairs announced at the virtual all-student gathering that ICNYC and ICLC would be cancelled for the fall 2020 semester. Although Cornish expressed the college’s commitment to re-opening ICLC in the summer of 2021, it is unclear whether ICNYC will follow suit. Ithaca College Los Angeles (ICLA) was also cancelled for the upcoming summer. Joe Minissale, a sophomore film, photography and visual arts major said he was looking forward to interning with AbelCine, an audio-visual store that specializes in image and video-making technology. Minissale said that, while he remains hopeful, he’s worried that it may be too late for him to find an internship near his hometown outside Philadelphia.
“I’m unsure I’ll be able to go out there now, considering how hard it is to find housing in Burbank,” he said. “It seems like a summer wasted from a professional development standpoint.”
For those nearing the end of their academic careers at the college, the pandemic whisked away the last chance for an internship before graduation. Lea Troutman, also a film, photography and visual arts major said that this was the first time she would have been able to apply to the company she’s idolized for years.
“Initially, I was really disappointed because National Geographic is my dream company to work for and it was the first summer that I had the opportunity to apply,” Troutman said. “It’s like my last summer before I am done with college so I was really relying on this summer to try to get some experience in the job field I want before I start applying for jobs after winter.”
Troutman is graduating in the winter of 2021 and said that while she sought out other internships to make up for the loss, most application deadlines have already passed. She is pursuing a career in preservation—also known as digital archiving, which involves the documentation of timeless artifacts and other museum collections through photography for access in the long-term. Troutman said that she will likely be at a disadvantage when it’s time to apply for jobs.
“Usually for those jobs, they [recommend] that you have internship experience before they hire you so it might make it a little harder in that regard for me to get a job because if I did get the internship with National Geographic, I would’ve had the experience to get a job in that field,” Troutman said. “I might just have to try harder and find experience in different ways.”
Internships in the production industry are in limbo. Brian Power, a sophomore cinema and photography major with a concentration in cinema production, had pinned down a summer internship with the Cannes Film Festival until the organization postponed it for the summer of 2021.
“The Cannes internship is more than an experiential internship, it’s building bridges and meeting people for future internships and future jobs and one of the best opportunities I have to jump off into my career,” Power said. “I could have made the connections this year and then had an internship based off [of] the connections I made [for] next year.”
Ann Marie Adams, Lecturer and Interim Professional Development Coordinator at the college, has been hosting Park Salons, a networking series featuring Zoom conferences with professionals—mostly IC graduates—in their respective fields. Speakers share their experiences, offer advice and engage in discussions with students. She said that although many internships are being cancelled or postponed, just as many are sprouting from an industry-wide need to maintain communications in an increasingly digital world.
“We’re finding that there are as many internships that have come on board that didn’t exist before the crisis as there have been those that have retracted,” Adams said in a Zoom conference on April 7. “Any industry that requires large masses of people, festivals, events, production… most of those arenas are just shut down until they can get back together.”
Calvin Yohannan 19’, assistant account executive at the Zeno Group and guest speaker at the same Park Salon Zoom conference, said that networking right now is as important as ever, adding that IC alums will network with students “because people want to help each other and they want to connect.”
“In terms of business communications, people need the news and need to continue doing what they’re doing but they can only get it through the internet now,” Yohannan said. “Another side of the Park School… is busier, to an extent, because of all the communication that needs to happen.”
Both Yohannan and Adams urged students to reach out to anyone with an IC connection. They reminded students to use their LinkedIn accounts, encouraged cold pitching and said that because of the Park School, “you’ve got skills the other peers in your age group do not have and it’s going to put you in a different category of candidates.”
“There’s a lot of hope,” Adams said.
Refunds, S/D/F and IC Cares
In the March 25 update from Student Affairs and Campus Life, the college announced that it would reimburse students for their unused room and board from the spring 2020 semester.
“There is a campus-wide leadership group focused on this issue, and they are considering what is best both for fairness to our students and the long-term fiscal health of the institution,” Rosanna Ferro, Vice President of Student Affairs and Campus Life, said in the email. “While we continue to work through the details, we want you to know that we are committed to providing some level of credit or refund to eligible students based upon each student’s individual circumstances.”
Although some students found the initial message’s language concerning, Laurie Koehler, Vice President of Marketing and Enrollment Strategy, addressed their concerns at the virtual All-Student Gathering on April 3.
“I know that many of you have been anxious about this and there was anxiety about some of the language we used in our last update,” Koehler said. “We knew what we meant. In retrospect, it clearly didn’t communicate what we hoped it would. Instead, it resulted in greater anxiety and I am sorry about that.”
Just five days later, President Collado—on behalf of the senior leadership team—sent out an email detailing how the college would approach reimbursement, which she said would take the form of prorated credits or refunds depending on each individual student’s financial package.
“In the spirit of equity, we felt it was critical that the formula take into account such factors as the cost for the student’s specific residence hall room and meal plan, less any Ithaca College funds that had been applied toward housing and meals costs,” Collado said in the email.
Of the college’s estimated 6,500 students, approximately 4,000 received credit. The college also provided meal credit to students with commuter meal plans. The remaining students were ineligible because their room and board charges differed if they studied abroad, worked as RAs, or lived off-campus.
Within weeks of this announcement, the Office of Student Financial Services notified students that their room and board adjustments could be found on Homerconnect. As these notifications came in, however, some took to Facebook to express their frustrations about the amount they had been reimbursed. In an effort to quell the discontent, senior Alexander Perry sought to clarify the formula by responding directly to students’ complaints. He said that students who pay more out of pocket are refunded a greater amount than those who pay less.
“A lot of people are confused by why students who receive more financial aid get less of a refund,” Perry said. “It’s very simple… IC is paying more for them.”
Perry, Varsity Athlete Senator of Student Governance Council (SGC), said that SGC has been involved in communicating students’ needs and concerns to the college’s Senior Leadership Team. In attendance at their meetings were President Collado, Vice President Koehler and Vice President for Finance and Administration Bill Guerrero. According to Vice President Guerrero, the college has since refunded around $9 million to its students. Like most institutions across the country, Ithaca College required its students to pay full tuition—with the exception of scholarships—for the spring 2020 semester. Perry said that the college chose not to lower the cost of tuition because students still received credits for the courses they were enrolled in for the spring semester, but noted the possible reduction of tuition fees in the future.
“The college said that [due to] unprecedented circumstances, they did not discount tuition,” he said. “But if classes needed to be held remotely next fall, they would reevaluate the calculation for tuition costs.”
Perry’s statement also came weeks before the October 5 announcement from the college’s Senior Leadership Team. As a result of the circumstances brought about by COVID-19, it has become increasingly evident that some courses offered by the college translate poorly to remote environments. Students enrolled in courses reliant upon specialized equipment or in-person performance and skill-building now struggle to obtain the breadth of hands-on learning that would have otherwise been possible in the absence of the global pandemic. This is an issue that goes beyond Ithaca College. Students across the country have demanded that their colleges provide them with at least partial tuition refunds, with some filing class-action lawsuits against their institutions, reported both the Washington Post and New York Times. Nick Anderson, an education reporter at the Post, recently published an article outlining this dilemma and said that remote instruction just isn’t the same conventional learning.
“It’s not the same thing,” he said in an interview with CBS News. “When you go to a residential university or college, really, the point of those schools is to immerse, it’s to meet people, it’s to be close together.”
Anderson added that colleges have been reluctant to refund tuition because of the additional costs that accompany the pandemic-induced, nationwide transition to remote learning.
“They have a lot of expenses right now,” he said in the same interview. “They have to pay their salaries of professors who are still working, they have to pay staff who are trying desperately to keep the colleges operating—at a different level but still operating—and they also have expenses in trying to change the way they teach and deliver remote learning.”
The period of uncertainty following the initial developments of COVID-19 prompted some students to utilize social media and streamline resources for their peers. Senior sociology major Clare Nowalk created the “IC Student Response to Corona Virus” page on March 16 to establish “a space for Ithaca College Students to ask questions, rant, share self-quarantine tips, social distance together, and get updates” about how the novel Coronavirus pandemic has impacted their community. Its membership has since climbed to over 1,400 users.
Around the same time, junior music in combination with an outside field and vocal performance major Darius Elmore expressed his commitment to organizing an initiative to help students in need. He began sharing resources via Google Drive regarding transportation, medical assistance, groceries and food supplies, as well as information about mitigating the virus’ impact on artists and people of color. Shortly after, Elmore collaborated with Elena Gupta, who was representing the Cornell community, and the Ithaca Free Clinic to share a spreadsheet outlining health guidelines that could help slow the spread of COVID-19. Elmore said that he began using his social media platform to “bridge any disconnects that were existing at the time,” adding that he wanted students to “feel compelled and inspired to take action as well.”
On March 17, Elmore shared a petition requesting Satisfactory, D, or Fail (S/D/F) as an option for students in existent circumstances and garnered over 2,200 signatures. On March 24, Provost La Jerne Cornish announced that students could indeed request to take classes S/D/F with permission from respective departments until May 11, and proposed to eliminate the maximum number of classes students could originally take S/D/F.
Elmore then worked with sophomore music education major Logan Chaput to draft a formal address articulating students’ growing concerns and needs. Elmore posted the address to his Facebook on March 18. In the address, Elmore and Chaput encouraged the administration to provide refunds for room and board, meal rebates, students access to their belongings, bi-weekly stimulus checks for students “who relied on on-campus work-study positions and other on-campus jobs,” aid to those studying abroad with travel costs and refunds “for sudden departure,” full coverage of senior dues, a “50% refund for parking permits” and stipends for students who live off-campus “to cover, at minimum, a month of rent.”
Elmore said that anyone can make change when they use their voice.
“You do not have to be in a position of power to create change,” Elmore said. “Knowing that your voice carries weight is more significant.”
He also said that it’s important for students to be “learning how to breathe in global unison and finding a way to redirect our emotions and our energy to become more community-driven.”
“We cannot allow ourselves to lead by emotion, emotion has to be secondary,” Elmore said. “In some regard, emotion can sort of act as fuel, but it will not serve purpose if there’s no logic and reasoning.”
The college’s Division of Institutional Advancement has been working to meet the needs of students facing challenging circumstances. On March 20, they released their “Student Emergency Relief” web page. “IC Cares: Bombers Helping Bombers is a fund dedicated to supporting students who need financial relief. It has since raised upwards of $115,000 and allocates a maximum of $500 to qualifying students. Wendy Kobler, vice president of philanthropy and engagement, said that students, faculty, alumni and friends have contributed to the campaign.
“We were able to raise money and are still continuing to raise money,” she said. “Most recently, a student group, IC Bound, supported us and they asked students to give back.”
Grants are reviewed by a committee within Student Affairs. Vice President Kobler said that out of 234 applications, 123 were approved and 41 are still pending—adding that the average of the awards has been calculated at $389. Two donors matched the first $50,000 raised, donating $25,000 each, which doubled the fund to $100,000.
The fund will continue to accept donations throughout the pandemic. Vice President Kobler said that excess funds will be transferred into an endowed fund.
“An endowed fund would be a fund that would live in perpetuity,” she said. “While COVID-19 certainly brought to bear an immediate response, there will be future needs for our students [who] we want to be prepared to respond to in a very timely manner.”
Bonnie Prunty, Dean of Students, is on the committee within Student Affairs. She said that the college is trying to reduce the time between grant approval and receival.
“Generally, students will hear about whether they’ve been awarded funding or not roughly within a week of applying,” she said. “The process… is taking longer than we want it to be and so we’re going to actually be making a change where we’re going to be able to award funds to students through direct deposit if they have a bank account that is set up.”
For those who may be unable to donate, but still want to give, they can offer some words of affirmation to the graduating class of 2020 through the 20 for ‘20 initiative.
For the Love of the Game
Student athletes were just as lost in those first confusing days. Jill Geline, a goalie on the women’s soccer team, explained that her coaches did their best to keep the team updated. “Our head coach also called everyone personally,” she said. “They were planning on us coming back after [spring break was extended] to keep a positive attitude.”
Then NCAA announced all remaining college sporting activities would be cancelled until further notice, marking the sudden end to months worth of work and training.
But Geline and her teammates quickly found ways to adapt.
“While we may not have the same equipment that we had in the weight rooms at school, we are working around it [by] figuring out different things we can use to get our work done,” Geline said. “In a packet that was sent to us via email, there are a wide range of things to do [even] if you don’t have the right equipment. For example, filling up a backpack with books can act as a barbell that we would squat in the weight room.”
Welcome to Zoom University
At the beginning of the scheduled spring break, the college had already begun formulating a plan for the rest of the semester. With Ivy League universities like Princeton and Columbia announcing the closing of their campuses, it was only a matter of time before Ithaca College followed suit, said Bob Sullivan, a communication studies professor at the college.
“I have colleagues at some state schools who were literally given a weekend to figure out what they were going to do,” Sullivan said. “Ithaca College really caught a break in a weird way. We went away on spring break, and that gave the administration time to think really hard about where we were and what we were going to do.”
Initially, the college extended spring break by an extra week, giving faculty time to gather materials from their offices and reconfigure their curriculums to adapt to an online format. Sullivan expressed immense gratitude for the incredible effort put forth by members of the college’s Information Technology (IT) department. He said that professors went into online instruction with varying levels of experience and added that they achieved uniform instruction because of the clear guidelines communicated to faculty by IT.
“I have spent my entire career avoiding anything to do with online instruction,” he said. “I can barely run my laptop! When I came into this, I was floored—I had no idea where to begin but I think the college made an appropriate decision. They made the default contact medium Zoom. The fact that they did that rather than say ‘there’s a million things you can do online’ made things so much better for me. I would have been paralyzed.”
Although much of the college’s campus has been shut down because of COVID-19, IT has been working to help make the transition to remote instruction seamless. Andrew Hogan, director of the college’s IT department, said that staff have been working overtime.
“Over the last couple weeks, the vast majority members of IT have been working an exorbitant amount of hours well above their normal,” he said.
The IT department spearheaded multiple projects to help the Ithaca College community adjust to working and teaching remotely. Teaching and Learning with Technology, a program within the IT department, has presented over 31 workshops for faculty about remote teaching.
The department created a drive-thru, drop-off service where students or faculty can drop off their devices for repair and retrieve them at the Textor Circle once they’re ready. IT also created a virtual service desk where people can ask tech-related questions through a new chat feature. The same virtual service desk has 11 employees working at a time and can otherwise be accessed by phone and email.
The IT department has also employed 12 student workers to help them take phone calls from their service desk.
“We certainly couldn’t run and perform the services we do without the student team,” Hogan said. “Wherever the students could still perform their normal functions, we certainly wanted them to come back and have the ability to do that.”
Despite these efforts, the transition to online learning has complicated matters for students whose degrees require more than sitting in a classroom. While recovering from the coronavirus, Mayson Sonntag, a musical theater major, said that his online classes posed a new set of challenges.
“Everyone has been putting so much work in and everyone has been struggling with this, but for me personally it’s been really difficult,” he said. “I can’t do a whole dance class in my basement where if I jump I’ll put my head through the ceiling. I can’t do scenes with my partner over Zoom; a scene isn’t just about talking, it’s about physicality and breath and posture, and I can’t do any of that.”
In response to the pandemic, the college has laid off 167 employees in essential services, wrote the Ithaca Voice.
In an effort to mitigate the impact of these layoffs, the college is offering workers “one-time retirement incentive, phased retirement, hours reduction and salary reduction.” Retirement incentive offers part-time employment or payment in exchange for an agreement for that employee to retire. Phased retirement allows full-time employees to work part-time shifts, and it allows them to begin to tap into retirement savings. Salary reduction allows employees to commit a certain amount of their income into their retirement savings plan. Hours reduction allows employees to voluntarily reduce their hours for a certain amount of time. As of Tuesday, April 28, 76 employees went for the retirement incentive, 15 for phased retirement, 17 for hours reduction and 19 for salary reductions.
That students, faculty, and alumni have found ways to come together in spite of the crisis is a testament to the resilience of this community. Members of the Theatre Arts faculty have come together to bring groceries to students like Sebastian de la Paz who are still unable to leave Ithaca. Additionally, the Office of Residential Life has supplied Wegmans gift cards to the RAs who remain on campus. Although separated physically, Jill Geline and her teammates have maintained their bond.
“Every Friday at 3:00, we have a Zoom meeting with our coaching staff,” she said. “Everyone wants to talk to each other, so we always are texting one another in our team group chat.”
Professors have made the most of the online learning and many have found comfort in the fact that class provides a crucial chance for a face-to-face connection. Professor Sullivan’s breakthrough came when his colleagues implored him to “recognize one reality: you cannot design an online course over a weekend. These are not online courses. This is the way we are going to finish these courses to give the best possible educational experience to students in a crisis situation. Our job is not to run the best online course in the country. When people said that to me, that was a tremendous relief.”
Mayson Sonntag has now made a full recovery and said that he plans on finishing out the semester on a positive note. He added that he looks forward to the day when the college community can return to South Hill.
“My silver lining has just been realizing the strength and quality of the relationships I’ve built at Ithaca,” he said. “Those are the people I’ve really relied on during this time and that have really kept me going. It’s made me really excited to see them again, and made me realize when I get back I’m not just going back to my education, I’m going back to people that I care about.”
James Baratta, Christian Maitre, sophomore journalism majors, and Rachael Powles, a theatre studies/culture and communication double major, wrote this piece alone, together. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Art by Adam Dee and Caitlin Breslin.