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SUNY's coronavirus shift to online classes raises anxiety among Buffalo State students

Word got out Wednesday to students on the SUNY Buffalo State campus that classes would be conducted online starting March 19, perplexing and concerning some students who do not think it would be practical for their course of study.

Some students were also under the impression that those who are from downstate, nearer to the New York City area, might not be welcomed to move back on campus once spring break – which has been moved back to next week – is over.

It was a cause of anxiety for some students who said they should have the option to stay on campus for free over spring break.

"I feel like what they should do for students that live on campus is anyone that wants to go back has every right to go back, but they shouldn't be allowed back on campus because they have the potential of bringing back the virus," said Edwin Diaz, an 18-year-old freshman from Long Island.

"But anyone that wants to stay on campus and be safe, they should stay on campus so they don't have to go back and potentially catch the virus," Diaz added.

After hearing of the decision made for all SUNY schools by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Wednesday, Diaz and his girlfriend, Natalie Maloy, 19, a freshman from West Seneca, had a chat with someone they knew from residence life in the quad outside Campbell Student Union.

Foremost on their minds was the dilemma Diaz faces if he is not allowed to stay on campus over spring break or return to campus from Long Island once spring break is over.

"I called my mom and I'm crying, well, because I don't want to leave him, because if he leaves, he's not coming back," Maloy said.

"So I'm a little aggravated, upset, and I feel misinformed," she added.

It was a familiar sentiment expressed by other students.

Myasia Smiley, a 23-year-old senior business major, said she decided to find alternative lodgings in Buffalo instead of returning home to Brooklyn for spring break, so she could return to campus – even though her decision will be costly and inconvenient.

"It's inconvenient for students who weren't thinking this far in advance," Smiley said. "Some students were even crying and stuff because they don't have money to go back home right now.

"I have so much stuff that I can't just pack up and take with me on a bus."

Andrew D. Nicholls, a professor and chairman of the history and social studies education department at Buffalo State, said downstate students who live on campus may have more options than it initially appears.

"I'm not sure that's an accurate characterization of it," Nicholls said of downstate students expressing fears that they won't be allowed to return to campus.

"I think that what's been said is that students who feel safer staying on campus would be permitted to do so," he added. "But given the public health mandates and thinking behind the decision to go online, I suppose the way to put it is why would students come back when they're not going to have the same kind of classroom experience that they did before."

Of equal concern to students is how online classes will be managed.

Reggie Taylor, a 21-year-old senior from Brooklyn who is a mechanical engineering major, said he was caught by surprise. Once informed of the plan, Taylor said he did not see how it would be practical for him to resume his studies online, given his major.

"The classes I take are pretty difficult, so if they were taught online and not by the professor, I probably wouldn't learn anything really," Taylor said.

Nicholls said online classes could work in many teaching situations.

"I think it absolutely can be practical, as many people are already using either online or hybrid instruction as part of their courses," said Nicholls.

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