Some Classes May Be Virtual, But Your Professor Is Not

by The Cowl Editor on September 17, 2020


Some Classes May Be Virtual, But Your Professor Is Not

by Madeline Morkin ’22

Opinion Staff

Some professors are conducting classes in outdoor classrooms this fall. Photo courtesy of Jack Downey ’23/The Cowl.

While students lament a less social, more uncertain semester at Providence College, they  need to realize that campus is different for everyone, especially their professors. Most of our professors were here long before us and will remain long after we are gone. During this strange and uncertain time, we all need to empathize with and appreciate the people who got us back to PC this semester, and accept that the necessary campus-wide changes that have been implemented affect them as much as they do us.

Just because our professors are respected adults does not mean that they are settled into the current situation themselves. Like us, they have never been through anything similar to this. For example, Dr. Richard Barry IV said he struggles with his face mask, explaining, “I feel this slight sense of panic throughout class as if I have this sort of drowning response.” 

Similarly, Dr. Margaret Reid, chair of the English department, indicated that she also has concerns brought on by COVID-19. She said,  “Many of us care for older relatives who are at risk. So, just like students, we have complicated lives! But you know, 2020 isn’t what any of us signed up for.” 

Perhaps Dr. Barry captures what is missing with online teaching best. He said, “It’s so weird at the end of a Zoom lecture you just click off and then you’re all completely alone. It’s like the most alone feeling. You’re pouring it out, your heart, and then all of a sudden everyone’s gone.”

 As college students, we rarely think about the energy and friendliness of PC as the same characteristics that attracted such great professors to teach and stay here. But, as Dr. J.T. Scanlan of the English department points out, Friar friendliness has fallen. “There is a lot less noise, there is a lot less comic chatter. People are all masked up and relatively silent, kind of waiting for something to happen.” 

So often, we focus exclusively on our own personal lives, but in doing so, we leave others, including our professors, to deal with their stress, their fear, all alone.

During such a time of confusion, loneliness, and heartache, we must all learn to smile with our eyes, project “thank you” beneath our masks, hold doors open with Clorox wipes, and appreciate every single day we have here. As Dr. Robert Reeder of the English department argues, “It’s amazing that this [in person direction] is happening at all.” 

Our faculty, made up of individuals with their own concerns, fears, and experiences related to COVID-19, spent an inconceivable number of hours in preparation for the irregular reality that has unfolded before all of us this fall semester. 

Dr. Scanlan suggests that “reality is unyielding, and reality has ways of making plans obsolete very quickly.” So, for the time being, he suggests that we all “have to be loose, and to be nimble, and to be able to change at a moment’s notice. Otherwise, there’s just needless tension.” 

Through small acts of kindness, a stronger effort towards patience, and an understanding of our professors’ own stresses, we can ease tensions and find new ways to show Friar friendliness. Professor Janet Letourneau of the marketing department brings attention to this by saying, “I don’t care what anyone says, people remember kindness. And people remember how they felt when they were misunderstood.”

While empathy may seem impossible during a time when smiles and words are masked, students should remember to reciprocate the hard work and open communication that their professors are exemplifying so strongly. 

Perhaps Dr. Scanlan provides the best guidance: “Most of us are hoping that our better angels will lead the way. We are all trying to do the best we can, and we should all give people a little extra room, you know? A little extra space to try to find those better angels.” 

This semester, give your professors a little extra space, let’s say six feet or so, but do not forget to smile at them with your eyes.