March 12, 2020 was a sunny day at Southern, approximately 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Students milled about, going to and from their last few classes before Spring Break. They could not have predicted what was to follow.
Jared Stoia, sophomore psychology major, said he started hearing rumors about being sent home in early February.
“I was hearing in February from my dad [at Duke University] about this bug that’s going around,” Stoia said. “He was telling us to pack a little bit more than you normally would. Because odds are we weren’t coming back.”
Despite the school monitoring the global spread of the coronavirus, the decision to go online came suddenly. An email was sent to students on March 12 at 11:19 a.m., letting students know they needed to pack everything up because they wouldn’t be returning to campus. The email read, “After careful consideration of the increasing spread of COVID-19 and out of concern for the well-being of our students, Southern Adventist University Administration has determined that we will move to online and/or video distance learning for the rest of the semester. Spring Break will be extended a week with classes resuming online on March 30, 2020.”
The news shocked the campus. Students began contacting their parents, guardians, family members or anyone who could help them get their things packed.
“I remember frantically calling my parents,” senior psychology major Jillian Roberts said. “My boyfriend was calling his [parents], and we were so scrambled. We had one small car and two dorm rooms full of stuff to get home.”
Only 12 hours before the news first broke, some students were at the airport ready to fly abroad for mission trips. Delaney Fox, senior health, physical education and recreation major, was about to embark on a trip to Rwanda. The decision came as a shock to her and her companions, too.
“The initial reaction was confusion and disappointment,” Fox said. “I remember getting a text from one of our sponsors telling us to meet at a specific location. … He started telling us about how Melissa Moore had called, and we weren’t going to Rwanda anymore. … He got emotional, which didn’t help us at all.”
Once the email was sent out, she knew what was next: Moving out.
Students began packing their things and moving out. Parents drove to school to help, and some resolved to make a couple of trips. The initial deadline for moving out was March 20, which was later extended to March 23, giving students 11 days to get their affairs in order.
About a week later, Jake Miller, junior business management major, who had gone home for break prior to the announcement, returned to an empty campus to pack his belongings.
“It was oddly eerie to walk around campus,” Miller said.
After a week off of allowing students to adjust, remote learning began. Students and faculty utilized Zoom in order to communicate and hold classes. Professors were forced to adjust their curricula. With less than half the semester remaining, many students were hoping to simply coast to the finish line.
“I appreciate the professors trying to make it easier on us at home, but I still just wanted it to be over as soon as possible,” Roberts said.
When the semester did finally end, the future was still uncertain. The pandemic raged on, and many schools were forced to commit to distance learning for at least another semester.
On May 4, Southern resolved to make in-person classes possible again for the Fall 2020 semester. And on June 15, administration laid out rigid guidelines for students when they returned.
Enhanced air filtration and electrostatic cleaning were introduced to ensure the air and surrounding environments were clean to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Daily temperature screening, symptom assessments and masks were required at all times with no exceptions. Classrooms were spaced out, and plexiglass barriers were added at checkout places.
Thanksgiving Break began on Nov. 23, and classes finished online. The Fall 2020 semester ended with a low number of COVID-19 cases. In total, the school had 72 active cases.
As students prepared to return to campus for the Winter 2021 semester, the university encouraged a responsible return by offering $50 Village Market gift cards to students and employees who showed proof upon arrival that they had taken a COVID-19 test or were vaccinated. However, on Jan. 26, Southern’s COVID-19 dashboard reported that 26 individuals were in isolation after testing positive — an all-time high for the campus. On Feb. 2, administration held an emergency town hall meeting informing students, faculty and staff that in-person classes were in jeopardy unless everyone followed the COVID-19 guidelines.
As of March 8, 2021, Southern’s campus has reduced the number of isolated individuals by over 50%, with the COVID-19 dashboard reporting 11 individuals currently in isolation. The University Health Center, along with administration, has made more COVID-19 resources available to students in an effort to relieve the stresses that come with combatting the pandemic.