COVID-19 cases continue to rise in North Carolina with thousands hospitalized according to data from the North Carolina Department of Human Health and Services’ COVID-19 response, causing anxiety and fear at the return to campus for the second semester.
“We feel this pressure, this expectation to automatically know how to deal. We don’t,” said Ashe Cosette, lecturer for the new media department at UNC Asheville.
Cosette said she’s nervous this semester because she’s instructing classes in person, where last semester she instructed classes online through the app Discord.
“It’s just really weird. It’s so hard because everything you rely on as a teacher pre-COVID-19 is just not in the books now. We can’t interact, we can’t get close now,” Cosette said.
Cosette said as a faculty member at UNCA, she feels a pressure to appear perfect to uphold the university’s image despite the loneliness and stress maintaining a public persona often requires.
“I feel like there is a lot of pressure on staff and faculty to not appear that way, to appear like we are strong and that we can take care of this situation. Because beyond the pandemic, we are in this position where there is this unsaid expectation where we know so much, where we know how to deal with things,” the new media lecturer said.
According to the UNCA Office of Human Resources, university faculty and staff have the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program available to them which offers online resources, webinars and short-term counseling to employees 24 hours a day and seven days a week.
“They made sure to mention that counseling services were extended to faculty, but I am sure that is just a pandemic response. Beyond that, no,” Cosette said.
The UNCA lecturer said she does not feel the university properly supports staff and faculty mental health and before this academic year, she had to seek those services outside of the university.
“For me, it’s doing my best to put that aside and be calm and be mindful of the thought patterns that I have which cause me to physiologically feel different, like changing my breathing patterns, my blood pressure, my eating habits,” Cosette said.
The new media lecturer said she encourages the practice of mindfulness to her fellow colleagues to combat stress and anxiety this semester. Cosette said she advises meditation and focus training even if it is just for a short time in order to reduce tension.
A UNCA parent said she believes mental health issues are just as worrisome as the virus. Dianne Johnson, medical librarian and mother of a UNCA freshman said the university’s COVID-19 protocols made her comfortable sending her child to campus, but she said her student felt there was a lack of connection.
“My academic medical center calls this COVID-19 fatigue and I think my child is experiencing it. They’re realizing all the stuff they’re missing like kayaking with their friends,” Johnson said.
The medical librarian said the mental strain of last semester was hard for her student, but their roommate and the library staff were a great help. Johnson said she believes having a family advocate makes a big difference for students.
Deborah Drebitko, stay at home parent and mother of a UNCA student said she was disheartened when her student’s classes went remote last semester, leaving the freshman alone in a single room most of the time. Drebitko said she felt there was not a lot of support for students who are more introverted.
“Actually, again all my student’s teachers are remote learning so they did not go back to campus,” Drebitko said. “Honestly, my student is trying to transfer and it’s not any animosity or anything like that, I think that it would not be happening if they had a normal college experience.”
Mathematics Instructional Coach at Columbus City Schools in Ohio, Jada Jackson, said she felt more comfortable with her student moving back on campus this semester because the university is taking precautions and protocols seriously. Jackson said while
COVID-19 caused her to worry, the threats made against the campus last semester caused a great deal of anxiety for her and her student.
“The threats were something beyond their control and that was a very uneasy feeling. We were very worried here in Ohio but the communication from UNCA was very helpful for us,” Jackson said.
The mathematics instructional coach said she is able to communicate frequently with her student about information on campus because of emails and posts in the UNCA parent Facebook group. Jackson said her student is aware of the mental health support offered to them by the university and is confident her child will seek the resources they need to stay healthy on campus.
“I like the fact that UNCA makes no bones about the mental health of the community. That means a lot when there are 7 hours of distance between us and any support we could offer at home,” Jackson said.
According to the UNCA Health and Counseling Center, mental health services such as counseling are included in student’s health fees for the university and require no extra costs. Students can set up appointments with the university Health and Counseling Center through their student health portal or by contacting the center.
“One step at a time. That’s it. There’s a million things you’ve got to get done in a day — you’re not going to get them done at once. You have got to think about what is the most prevalent thing, and do that first. One step at a time,” Cosette said.