As the Commonwealth of Kentucky, the United States, and the world began to understand the full scope of the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in early spring 2020, administrators at Morehead State University found themselves dealing with a constantly evolving set of guidelines and information and faced many difficult decisions.
The goal was and remains to keep the health and safety of students, employees, alumni, donors, and the general public in mind at all times. In parallel with public health recommendations and in support of the Commonwealth’s overall efforts to mitigate the risk of COVID-19, the decision was made in mid-March 2020 to move the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester to an online environment. This included all instruction, student support, and the daily operations of the University to the extent possible.
We asked three people – a current student, a faculty member, and a staff member – to describe their experiences during this unprecedented time in MSU’s history. These are their stories.
Elle Howard, freshman from Lexington, convergent media
Starting school this year as a freshman was one of the best moments of my life. Being able to finally get to experience the “college life” was a long time coming. I had always thought about my freshman year of college as being the most life-changing experience and, honestly, it was, until COVID-19. When I found out that we wouldn’t be coming back to school for the remainder of the semester, I was crushed. I love being in Morehead, I love my friends, the atmosphere, everything. Being able to walk around campus and see people who are always friendly is one thing I love. I’ve met some of my best friends at MSU and I hate being away. Morehead has truly become my home away from home.
When spring break concluded and classes were starting up, I, along with every other student living in on-campus housing, was told to move out. I think that was a very hard situation for me because I just didn’t want to leave. For the first time in my life, I had a place that is truly my own. Having it sort of be ripped away from me very abruptly was hard because I had gotten into a routine of doing my own thing. Coming home was definitely a big adjustment. Having to follow my parents’ rules again and not being able to go somewhere without asking was weird for me.
Once online classes began, it became very difficult to keep my stress levels down. I’ve found that it was really hard to stay motivated to do work especially since classes were moved to online-only. It took me about a couple of weeks to really get a routine going on how to be productive while being at home. Once I really got my routine down, I was able to start doing things to keep me more productive. I am an extrovert so being around my friends and family helps keep me clear-headed and happy. Being stuck in quarantine and not seeing any of my friends put a slight damper on my mental health. At one point, I just had a serious lack of motivation. I spent many days doing the same things over and over again. And in turn, it just got boring. I had to do little things to make sure that I wouldn’t fall into a state of gloominess again.
To keep from being sad, I would video chat with my friends. I would spend time with my family by watching movies, going for walks with our dog, playing cornhole, as well as trying out new recipes in the kitchen. My mom and I have been sort of obsessed with making different desserts in the kitchen. The latest recipe we tried was lemon cupcakes with a cream cheese icing. It was delicious! I think with me being back at home and seeing my parents a lot more than I was while at school, it made me realize that this quarantine is somewhat of a good thing. It’s brought my family and me closer than before.
Although this hasn’t been the easiest time, I understand why everything is happening. My family and I are taking all of the precautions that we can and we really can’t wait for things to go back to some type of normalcy. I have a video show with MSU athletics called Eagle Eye Athletics Update, and I cannot wait to get back to being a part of those videos. As much as I love being at home, I miss MSU and I really cannot wait to be back there in the fall. I can’t wait to catch up with my friends. And I’m super excited to see what my professors have in store for the upcoming semester.
Dr. Nettie Brock, assistant professor of communication
My favorite color is black, and it has been for a very long time. But the reason I love black is because of the way it makes everything else brighter and more colorful. Black is a backdrop for whatever is in front of it. These days, I feel like everything in front is grey. The colors are gone from the world. The things that make me excited – friends, adventures, fun, students, teaching – are a stripped-down form of what they used to be. Instead of a black background with bursts of color that shine brightly through the darkness, everything blends together in a world of blah. I have done my best to find color in the darkness.
I had a panic attack and cried when I first learned we were moving online and for a period after that, all around me was grey. I have been through so many obstacles on my road to working at MSU. I felt I could handle anything the world threw at me. I was wrong. My classes are relatively easy to move online. All my classes have three basic elements: lectures, discussions, and activities. All three can be done online, albeit in an entirely different form. But it’s not the same. Instead of lecturing to people in a give-and-take format, I’m talking to my computer in an empty room. Instead of engaging in debate, grappling with issues, and talking through problems, my students comment on set discussion questions and then leave. Instead of getting us out of our seats and finding new ways of looking at media, we are using the media to learn about the media while sitting in our homes. It’s just not the same. And it makes me sad. I’ve lost the connection to my students that I have always found to be the most fun part of my job. And I’ve lost the desire to be creative. The videos are all the same: lecture, notes, questions, repeat. The activities all look the same: Google this law, come up with an idea for a research project, etc.
But, at the same time, there are dashes of color that I am focusing on. I’m looking forward to teaching classes online in the future – one of my undergraduate classes is permanently being moved online and all of my graduate courses are online. And I can see that there are ways to be creative in this new space. I’m planning on creating a podcast. I want to find ways to run classes in video game formats and through social media as we study those aspects of the media. I want to point my students toward movies and shows we wouldn’t be able to watch in the classroom. There are so many possibilities for distance learning. I am working towards looking for those possibilities and not just seeing the greyscale of my life.
However, moving back into the color is a one-day-at-a-time process. I have to realize that there’s no going back to what I perceive as normal. That one day, we’re not suddenly going to be back to ordinary activities. My new normal isn’t horrible. I still maintain a normal routine – work, nap, exercise, cook, craft, watch TV, etc. I get to spend quality time with my cat. I am in near constant communication with my friends – both in Morehead and further away. In some respects, I talk to some of these people more than I did before. But it aches. I ache to touch people. I ache to go out in public without wearing a mask and with more than a handful of people. I ache to have color again. For now, I’m working to live with the ache and find my own color in the handful of ways that I can. Each day is a little bit easier.
Dr. Jami Hornbuckle (96, 97, 18), assistant vice president for communications and marketing
There are probably two dates that will always stand out in my “MSU memory” – not necessarily my personal memories of graduation, sorority functions, or friends, but rather my institutional memory of events that were so significant I will never forget the way I felt for Morehead State University as a whole. The first would be March 17, 2011. A shot clock with 4.2 seconds left is burned into my brain. That’s when Demonte Harper hit the shot heard ‘round the world, and MSU defeated the University of Louisville in the NCAA tournament. I screamed with pride, literally, until I lost my voice.
The second memory ironically also came in March, nine years later. It certainly was “March Madness” but not the kind we are accustomed to in basketball country. The madness we all were experiencing was around the novel coronavirus, and the news was scary, confusing, and heartbreaking – ever-evolving and hard to keep up with. I remember vividly when the decision was made to move online. Even though discussions and planning had been happening to prepare if we needed to make the move, it was still a shock – even knowing the reality that surrounded us. Time was slowing down and speeding up. Since that moment, I’m not sure I even know what time really is or how to measure it. What day is it? What month is it? But, I digress.
At the end of that week, we were asked to move staff to work from home. This is the second moment that will be forever logged into my institutional memory. In preparation, the Office of Communications and Marketing staff, like other offices, were taking home necessary equipment and files. We cleaned out the refrigerator and took out the trash. On the way back from the dumpster, I remember looking across an empty campus parking lot – hearing none of the usual traffic, speakers thumping, or scooters whizzing down the sidewalks. I walked slowly and sang the alma mater to myself in my head. I felt tears well up and roll down my cheeks. What would the future hold for my alma mater? For our students? For dear ol’ MSU?
The Office of Communications and Marketing has adapted. We work through Teams, WebEx, ProofHub (our project management system), and a variety of other digital tools. We “meet” daily online. Is the work being done? You bet. In fact, we’re busier than ever and maybe even more productive than ever. We are challenging ourselves to think differently, not just work differently.
If the creativity and resilience of the staff of Communications & Marketing are any indication, the future of MSU is bright. If the innovation and flexibility of our faculty and staff are any indication, the future of MSU is exciting. However, what gives me the greatest hope for our future are our students. If their persistence and attitudes are any indication, the future of MSU is strong – Eagle strong. And if I know anything, it’s that Eagles always soar above the storm.