The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live, from stay-at-home orders to online classes. In April, Public Health Discussions (PHD) set out to understand how the pandemic is impacting OU students’ lives. PHD is an on-campus, student-led advocacy group that strives to create awareness about local public health issues, address challenges in our communities and implement interventions. To investigate the pandemic’s impact, our group conducted research using an online survey and multiple case studies to assess the health, economic and academic impacts of the pandemic on students.

Our survey found that when OU closed mid-March, nearly half of undergraduate students moved to a new residence, especially out-of-state students and underclassmen. Most respondents moved to a home or apartment, but over 1 in 10 are now living between residences. Nearly half of students who rely on mental health services are no longer able to access them, in addition to abrupt change of routine, isolation, and distance learning, among other factors, bogging down students’ mental health. Additionally, Asian students feel significantly more threatened by racial stereotyping than others.

“The psychological stress of watching this occur has been devastating.”

The pandemic has indirectly impacted the physical health of OU students in significant ways. Survey results support that diet and physical activity have worsened for students, their roommates and their families, accompanied by increases in recreational drug abuse. 1 in 5 respondents have a job with a high risk of exposure to the virus, causing immense mental strain due to the risk of passing the infection along to more vulnerable family members: “I live with my grandmother and I am petrifi ed of potentially passing something along with her.”

“My significant other was laid off and had to find employment at the only place hiring: grocery stores … I miss my family, but I don’t want to kill them. School is the last thing on my mind.”

“My dad lives 10 minutes from me, but I have not seen him since before March 9th … I am too afraid of having an asymptomatic infection and passing it to him. … It makes me incredibly sad, I am very afraid I will never see him again.”

On the academic front, over 85 percent of OU students report feeling less motivated toward academic challenges. Nearly half of respondents report being uncomfortable with taking online classes, and over 90 percent of students are unable to learn as efficiently with online classes; changes in living situations have only added to this burden. Over half of OU students have had internships, research programs, etc. over the summer cancelled as a result of the pandemic, and over 15 percent of upperclassmen respondents have had standardized tests (e.g. MCAT, LSAT, GRE) cancelled.

“I also do not have a home life conducive to learning, and it is full of family and distractions that I cannot control.”

“It has caused complete derailment in school and applications … I am unable to complete the entrance exam like the GRE.”

“I was engaged in multiple research projects with professors that have been terminated, which I believe will negatively impact my grad school application quality.”

A majority of respondents report negative financial impact as a result of the virus, with over 47 percent of students having experienced job loss among themselves or their family. This has caused some students to reevaluate if they will be able to afford tuition.

“I no longer have a job that pays as well and have to work a lower paying job for nearly 4 times the amount of hours a week.”

“I would like to see OU provide more assistance to student employees who are currently unemployed due to the campus being shut down.”

To encourage social distancing for the upcoming 2020-2021 school year, OU administration has moved classes with over 40 students online, increased passing periods between classes but did not mandate the use of face masks during lectures. However, there were no decisions made on student spacing, how often classrooms will be cleaned or how social distancing will be maintained in residence and dining halls.

Furthermore, OU administration has not yet addressed students’ financial impacts, next year’s out-of-state tuition or provided accommodations for those negatively financially impacted by the pandemic. Additionally, the University Counseling Center webpage has not been updated to accommodate for pandemic appointments/ mental health resources.

All assertions are 99 percent confidence. Contact ouphd1@gmail.com if you have any questions about the survey data discussed. This op-ed was written by Takyar and contributors Julia Oehlers, Jennifer Pusavat, Abhishek Soni, William Matthews and Hisham Helmy.

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