When Long Beach State announced the decision to transition to virtual learning on March 11 in accordance with California’s stay-at-home orders, students and faculty scrambled to adjust to the changes.
At first, the university expected to resume in-person classes by April 20. When that did not happen, the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic made students like Ben Nicholas rethink their fall semester plans.
Nicholas, a third-year double major in jazz and composition, had already decided that if the coronavirus was to continue to spread in the coming months, he would take time off from CSULB.
He was not the only student to make the decision to not return to CSULB this fall. So did Eliza Derselt, Justin Chow and Alyssa Mesa.
“It’s just not exactly what you pay for,” said Chow, a third-year studio art major. “I’m sure professors are providing the same amount of work as they normally would in person, if not more virtually, but it feels too costly to be enrolled in a class that you may not need to complete your degree.”
Chow decided to enroll in classes at Rio Hondo College instead. It is what Nicholas is doing at Fresno City College as well as Mesa, a third-year double major in vocal performance and choral music education, at Long Beach City College.
Though unchanged tuition for a virtual fall semester was a factor, the loss of valuable in-person experience within their departments sparked all four’s decisions.
Prior to the pandemic, Nicholas frequently spent between 12 and 14 hours a day on campus attending classes, rehearsals and practicing his music. He came to CSULB with the intent to be in vocal groups, make music with his peers and work alongside the faculty.
“I love making music with people live,” Nicholas said. “I can still make music on my own but having the group aspect taken away has been really hard. It’s what I wake up and look forward to.”
Mesa ran into the same concerns this past spring.
“I was taking a percussion class and all the percussion instruments are located at the school,” Mesa said. “Through online classes, it was all lectures and small writing assignments. We still learned about each instrument but we didn’t get to really interact with them.”
It was not just the percussion class, Mesa said, but also the cancellation of the live opera production “Orpheus in the Underworld” Mesa had been preparing for that turned into instruction about technique via Zoom. The University Choir’s San Diego tour became a virtual performance and left students like Mesa singing alone in their bedrooms.
Mesa understood instructors were trying their best, but it was not working.
Across campus, Derselt, a fourth-year psychology major, saw how her experience changed.
“I was in a community psychology class where a significant portion of that class was volunteer work,” Derselt said. “A lot of us didn’t get that portion of the class completed.”
Her psychology lab was disrupted as well.
“We worked a lot with children and that was the first thing that had to go,” Derselt said. “We were about to start a study with newborns and their mothers.”
Spring semester proved that it was no longer a question about whether or not to return, but if the consequences of that decision would be worth it.
For Derselt, that meant returning home to live with her family as it no longer made sense to pay rent in Long Beach for a school she was not going to attend. Mesa realized that she would no longer receive state-paid vocal lessons she otherwise would as a student in the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music.
Still, there were positives to this newfound time.
“Personally, I do a lot of art on the side,” Chow said. “During this time I’ve just been participating in zine fests.”
Before, Chow was kept busy with his work at a graphic design agency in Anaheim during the day and night classes at CSULB. Now, he has the time to work on personal projects.
Meanwhile, Nicholas has been brushing up on the piano, an instrument he used to be well-versed in. His music also has a new source of inspiration.
The turmoil Nicholas has experienced and witnessed around from the pandemic has turned into valuable life experience that can be channeled into his work.
“I’m still making music everyday,” Nicholas said. “Right now, I’m just going where my creativity takes me naturally and trying not to be too hard on myself because things are difficult right now.”
As Chow, Mesa, Derselt and Nicholas hold out for an in-person spring or fall semester next year, Chow realized that the pandemic has brought an important change of pace to students’ lives.
“I feel like this was a necessary break for everyone,” Chow said. “Right after you graduate you always experience that burnout. I’m sure there are a lot of students who are reevaluating their field. It’s kind of neat to see.”