Zoom university: Adjusting to college without a campus


Mason students face major adjustments to remote learning amid the coronavirus pandemic


Laura Scudder/Fourth Estate

Jeremy Hodge, an upperclassman studying history and screenwriting, came to Mason to start a new life.

 A complicated relationship with his hometown in rural South Carolina means Hodge’s college experience is about more than getting an education. For him, coming to Mason is an escape from a web of home-based personal issues. 

Hopeful that Mason would remain open throughout the fall 2020 semester, Hodge chose to live on campus even amid the ongoing pandemic.

 However, in recent weeks universities across the nation have faced controversial reopenings often followed by a permanent shift to online education, bringing into question the future of this semester at Mason.

“The only reason I didn’t skip a semester is because I could not tolerate being at home any longer,” said Hodge. “If they try to close down the dorms again, I will do everything in my power to stay.”

For students like Hodge, closed doors mean missing out on a lot more than club meetings and hanging out with friends it means giving up years of progress toward building a life of independence.  

Without a campus, the vibrant and exciting experience of Mason student life has been reduced to Zoom meetings and email exchanges.

“I miss the social interaction and being able to make new friends. The workload is the same, but the environment just isn’t,” said Hodge. 

Mason not only continued to charge full tuition but also tacked on a $450 increase, offering both in-person and online course options for students until Nov. 30, after which all instruction will be fully online, according to a university-wide email from President Gregory Washington sent on Aug. 10. 

 Boasting a 21-mile proximity to Washington, D.C., and advanced opportunities as an R1 research university, Mason attracts thousands of students from all 50 states and 130 countries every year.

Aside from offering more than 80 bachelor’s degree options, Mason’s extracurricular activities and campus life makes up the fabric of the college experience for Mason students. 

However, many of these opportunities have fallen short or have been canceled altogether amid concerns surrounding the ongoing pandemic.

“Compared to past semesters, it feels like a ghost town here,” said Victoria Sillo, a junior studying forensic science who is living on campus this semester.

 With reduced capacity in residence halls on the Fairfax campus, Sillo said student life is practically non-existent.

 The absence of an active campus life makes for frequent moments of isolation even for those who are living in residence halls.

“I’m used to being able to go to a study room or the library to work on homework because there’s too many distractions in my room … but that’s not really an option at the moment,” said Sillo.

Students recognize that these restrictions are in place to protect the health and wellness of the Mason community, but life for both students and faculty is different than any past semester.

A college without a campus may be a serious personal or professional challenge for some, but for others this change brought new opportunities that may not have been available otherwise.

“Remote work has definitely opened up a lot of doors in terms of work for me. That’s really what has been the silver lining,” said Taj Kokayi, a junior film and video studies student who is living at home this semester.

“I was able to apply for jobs all over the country without having to worry about not qualifying because of location,” said Kokayi, who just finished up a remote internship during the summer and has been able to work with various film festivals across the country. “None of those opportunities would have been possible if we weren’t doing remote work.”

With their college campus condensed to their kitchen counter, Mason students face major adjustments in continuing to pursue both an education and a social life. Regardless, students remain hopeful that it will be safe enough to return to in-person classes come the start of the spring 2021 semester.