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WGLT's reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, which began in McLean County in March 2020.

Classes Are Online, But Many Reasons Keep College Students In Normal

Emily Bollinger
The fall semester began Monday at ISU. Most classes are online, with a limited number of hybrid or in-person options, due to COVID-19.

The hustle of running late to class, the passion students have for a course, and the persistence of earning a degree—it’s all been moved online.

That’s left some in Bloomington-Normal wondering: Why are there still so many college students in town?

Freshman Rebecca Slywczuk said she felt coming to Illinois State University physically was the only way she was going to stay ahead.

“I didn’t plan corona, I didn’t want this to happen. It’s not our fault that corona happened. I wanted to come for the social aspect, and to try to be here,” said Slywczuk. “To try to be here, to try to see what this is all about. It is our freshman year, and for our senior year (of high school) we got the bad end of it.”

Slycwzuk’s sister (an ISU alum) influenced her decision, and helped her transition to this stage in her life-- despite the setbacks that came with COVID-19. 

"If everything closes down here, I personally wouldn't stay here."

“If I stayed home, I would have been a step behind,” said Slywczuk, who is taking all of her fall classes online.

In fact, 72% of ISU’s undergraduate students are taking all of their classes online this fall. Yet the community is still filled with college students. The dorms remain open, with the bulk of students living in off-campus rentals.

ISU student-athlete Rachel Hickey has her own reasons for being in Normal. Her track and field team is still practicing eight hours a week.

“Regardless of the cancellation of the season, we still do have required practices and regulations we have to follow in order to be able to practice on campus,” said Hickey.

Being here, and following the regulations, gives Hickey the experience she is paying for at ISU.

“Just being here, even though it is mostly online, feels more like a college experience than doing classes from my bedroom at home,” said Hickey. “As far as coronavirus, please wear your masks.”

ISU track athletes are only running two at a time and wearing masks at practice. Hickey said she believes she and her teammates are doing their part, and she hopes to continue practicing.

“Student-athletes would like to compete at some point, and we are doing our part to stay socially distant,” said Hickey. “No matter how many times the same message gets pounded into peoples’ heads, for some reason everyone wants to live the college experience.”

Other students decided to return to Normal simply because they are stuck in their leases at off-campus apartments. For those living on campus, ISU extended contract-cancellation dates when more classes moved online.

ISU student Mary signed her lease last fall, thinking everything was going to end up seamless for the fall 2020 semester. However, the pandemic took a turn and now she is stuck in a lease.

“I was stuck in this contract, so I decided to come down because some of my classes were actually going to be in person, but they got changed the day before school started," she said.

However, Mary is beginning to think the lease isn’t enough to keep her here. 

“If everything closes down here, I personally wouldn’t stay here. With the fitness center and dining halls closed, I’d feel so isolated,” said Mary. “I wouldn’t really want to cook in a tiny apartment. I’d rather be at home with my family and friends.” 

Mary and her friends feel limited due to restrictions, and all Mary really wants to do is to “go shoot hoops” with her college friends. Which is made impossible, due to the basketball courts being shut down. 

“If I wasn’t a junior, I would have stayed at home and took classes there. There is no reason for me to be paying what I pay to go here to take online classes,” said Mary. “Unfortunately, since I am in my major classes, the community colleges around me don’t offer the classes I need to take in order to graduate on time.”

For Mary, between the lease and the classes required for her to continue on her career path, staying in Normal is an obligation.

“It’s very lonely here. I feel like I’m living a country life now, I can’t really do anything,” she said.

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