WT Students Adjusting to a New World
By: Daniela Cervantes
Buffalo Fountain, Pedestrian Mall, West Texas A&M University. Photo and artwork by Daniela Cervantes.
With the rise of COVID-19 cases in the WT area in March 2020, school slowly shut down and classes moved online. Since the Spring of 2020, students remained hopeful during their stay-at-home recommendations that this pandemic would soon pass and things would return to normal in time for the new semester. Little did they know that the virus would continue to run rampant and affect school decisions.
For some WT students, COVID-19 quickly began affecting their life financially and mentally. As many of them chose to either take less credits and work remotely, or simply take this past fall semester off, their return to campus or class has proven to be different and difficult to get used to.
Fast forward to January 11, 2021. The start of a new semester. Students are back to finish off the school year, masks are still on, and not much has changed. For Raquel Mercado, a junior social work major, this semester is her first time coming back to Canyon and the WT campus since the abrupt end of the spring 2020 semester.
Mercado decided in July to not come back for the fall semester of 2020. “COVID just seemed to be getting worse and I don’t think I want to go back to campus,” she remembered as she thought back to what led to her choice. She wanted to avoid the big groups of people and, having gone back to her hometown in Georgia, she did not want to travel. Now that she is back for this spring semester, the main thing she is wary about is “being exposed to COVID.” Mercado’s main concern though was protecting her family, “considering the fact that I have elderly parents,” who she lives with in Hereford,TX.
Raquel Mercado, junior social work major, poses in front of a mural in downtown Amarillo. Photo provided by Raquel Mercado. Artwork by Daniela Cervantes.
Having to adjust to this new normal has been easier for some more than others and for Mercado she would have liked to have more time to adjust. Choosing to return this spring semester was a hard choice to make. “I do not” she responds when asked if she regrets taking the fall semester off, in fact, “I actually kind of wish I took this (spring) semester off too.”
Over a month into this spring semester, and despite her regret of coming back to school, Mercado admits to only missing the walks around campus. “I missed walking around campus and being able to be with people at the JBK.” Now, with only one of her classes being in-person, she goes from her car, to Old Main, and back. Although the stress still remains she’s handling this semester much better than last spring when everything changed so suddenly.
While some students still have in-person class options, others have transitioned to completely online options.
Jocelin Alessandra Ramirez Serna is a sophomore majoring in Spanish. She is currently attending WT remotely from her home eight hours away in Three Rivers, Texas. Compared to her first year, she began her second year taking only two classes, or six credits. Ramirez’s main reasons for making changes to her school life include minimizing stress over the virus and dealing with financial issues that might arise due to the effects of the pandemic.
Instead of living in the dorms, Ramirez lived in an apartment which her single mom helped her pay. However, due to the financial impact of COVID-19 on their family business, that choice was not an option anymore. “My mom made me stay basically.” Ramirez states when it came to making the decision of staying home for the fall semester. When asked about her decision to stay home for the semester, she said that “it was fine...I guess,” since her classes were online. But by staying at home, she had to work in her family-owned restaurant Taqueria Vallarta #7, a well-known Tex-Mex restaurant in her hometown.
Struggling to find workers to help with the 5 a.m. shift, Ramirez had to step up and work the morning shift. That was how she spent this past semester, juggling work, family, COVID-19, and complicated online classes. With the stress of work and taking online classes, which she “does not like at all,” Ramirez blocked out this past fall semester from her mind and looked forward to returning for the 2021 spring semester, but due to complications in finding an apartment to stay at, her mom once again decided to have her stay at home and continue helping at the family restaurant.
Rather than taking only online classes, she is now taking two hybrid classes over zoom which seems to be working out much better than last semester’s fully online classes.“So far, it’s going good!” she positively states. “The professors are very understanding,” when considering what everyone might be going through with COVID-19, “especially if you’re not in Canyon!”
Jocelin Ramirez, a Sophomore Spanish major, poses for a portrait in her hometown of Three Rivers, Texas. Photo provided by Jocelin Ramirez. Artwork by Daniela Cervantes.
In contrast to the Fall 2019 semester, when WT had almost 1,400 freshmen enrolled, this past Fall 2020 semester only saw about 1,200 freshmen enrolled. Although that was expected by the WT recruiter, the 14.3% drop in admission rates was still significant. Transfer rates remained mostly normal, but “we did see a lot of first-time freshmen enroll this spring semester,” a notable difference compared to how most freshmen normally enroll during the fall.
The assistant director of admissions, Sedrick ‘Sed’ Knowlton, has worked for WT for about five years. “We’ve never been so unsure,” Knowlton says when considering admission rates for the incoming class. “Right now we’re just serving the best we can.” His job required him to adjust to this new normal. From having to attend college fairs through Zoom and giving virtual tours, the recruiters have adjusted the best they can to help any student.
The past year has been very rough on everyone. COVID-19 has directly affected every person’s life in more ways than we might imagine. Dealing with the stress of the virus, handling school and troubles at home, everyone has learned how to adapt and navigate this new world. The WT admissions office, for one, is already preparing events, such as hosting many Discover WT’s, which offer opportunities for incoming students to explore the campus, all in order to help new students receive a proper welcome to this new chapter of their lives.
Teachers and students have slowly been learning new things to help themselves and others, so hopefully navigating this new world doesn’t seem as scary. Just remember we’re all doing our best to make things work.