Gatepost survey reveals 68% of students suffered mental health concerns due to COVID-19 pandemic: Majority of students learn better in person, according to survey

By Danielle Achin

Sports Editor

By Caroline Gordon

Arts & Features Editor

By Ashlyn Kelly

News Editor

By James Barraford

Staff Writer

By Dallas Gagnon

Staff Writer

By Stefano Hernandez

Staff Writer

By Branden LaCroix

Staff Writer

By Lydia Staber

Staff Writer

In an unscientific survey conducted by The Gatepost late in the fall semester, nearly 70% of students said their mental health had been negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nearly 85% of survey respondents reported learning better in an in-person setting and 55.6% said they do not favor more online classes being offered.  

The survey was taken by 250 students from Nov. 18 to Nov. 29. 

Of the 250 respondents, 29.2% were seniors, 26% were juniors, 20% were sophomores, 22.4% were freshmen, 1.2% were graduate students, and 1.2% were unsure. 

Resident students made up 69.2% of survey respondents and 30.8% were commuters.

In regards to gender identity, 55.6% were women, 40% were men, 2.8% were non-binary, and 0.4% were transgender. 

Impact on mental health

Of the 250 Gatepost survey respondents, 68.4% said their mental health had been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, 25.6% said it had not been, and 6% said they preferred not to say.

Many students reported feelings of depression, anxiety, and hopelessness.

A survey respondent said, “My depression and anxiety got worse, and I got too burnt out to have any motivation to do anything.”

Another respondent said, “I couldn’t make any real connections with anyone and having to work alone made me feel useless and stupid. I couldn’t get anything done.”

Amber Brown, a senior accounting major, said, “I feel tired every single time I arrive on campus. I never come in thinking I’ll be relaxed. I’m always thinking about my mask. I’m always thinking about being sick and missing assignments.

“My anxiety is definitely through the roof,” she added. 

Dean of Students Meg Nowak Borrego said she is not surprised to hear students have been struggling with mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said the majority of counseling and health services appointments during the last academic year were conducted online through telehealth.

However, this year, she was surprised the majority of students preferred to have in-person appointments rather than scheduling virtual ones.

“We just weren’t sure what the students were going to want. We thought more people would find it more convenient to do telecounseling and they’ve chosen to physically walk to the Health Center and sit in a room with someone,” she said.

Sadie Fitzgerald, a sophomore business & information technology major, said, “During lockdown, the Health Center only wanted to talk about COVID-related stress. Like yes, of course COVID stresses me out, but it’s not the root of my issues.

“Freshman year felt a lot better because I actually got to speak about the personal issues that were affecting me,” Fitzgerald added. 

Glenn Cochran, associate dean of students and student life, said he is “not surprised” the mental health of students has declined due to the pandemic as he thinks students feel “less certain about the future.”

He noted the uncertainty is stressful for college students because of the job market during a pandemic. 

“Jobs and the way people go to work are less certain than they used to be. That plays on confidence and anxiety. People are dealing with unique challenges today,” he said. 

Some students were affected by COVID-19 before they even stepped onto campus. 

One survey respondent said, “My senior year of high school was severely impacted by the pandemic. My grades started slipping and I had absolutely no motivation to do any work.” 

Andrea Pizzotti, a junior English major, said initially, her mental health was impacted by “getting [COVID-19] [herself], so it was hard to adjust to that. And the elimination of social interaction really was hard.” 

She added another hardship was “reintegrating into college life. Most of my friends graduated because they were a higher class than me and I feel like a freshman in my junior year. It’s insane that so much of my circle is just gone.”

Sam Bombara, a freshman mathematics major, said he “became depressed” in his senior year of high school because of the “lack of interaction with [his] best friends.”

He added, “I felt hopeless to finish all of the work that had stacked on top of me due to my lack of motivation mixed with my depression.”

One survey respondent said, “Being away from friends and extended family was really hard. I felt very lonely this past school year and was finding it difficult to separate school work from home life.”

Another survey respondent said, “Being on lockdown while having online classes was very difficult to manage and eventually made me feel [depressed] for months.” 

Another respondent said, “I missed opportunities in life and missed out on my last days of high school.” 

Another respondent said, “I have been much more stressed and my anxiety is pretty bad due to not feeling like I am as prepared because COVID affected me my senior year of high school and beyond.” 

In regards to their mental health, one survey respondent said, “Let’s just say I’m medicated now.” 

Benjamin Day, director of the Counseling Center, said, “I think what we see is that most students – certainly based on what I’ve been observing as they come here – are pretty resilient in terms of being able to reconnect. 

“But what I get the sense of is that everyone feels that there’s been a disruption in their school life that they are still trying to come to terms with,” he added. 

Day said this fall semester has been “a defining moment of their college existence” for sophomore students who were freshmen the previous academic year, and added, “We’re not really sure how this will impact them five years from now, [or] 10 years from now.” 

Several survey respondents said they experienced suicidal ideations during the pandemic. 

Day said the students who expressed these thoughts should seek the help of the Counseling Center. 

“I think what happens in many instances is that students – people in general, not just students – take those ideations and say, ‘I’m going to be OK,’ ‘I’ll be OK, I’ll be OK,’ and they escalate as opposed to de-escalate,” he said. 

“There’s no shame in saying … ‘I’ve been having these feelings and I need to talk to someone about it,’” he said. “ That’s what we’re here for.” 

Day added the Counseling Center has “check-in hours” set aside during the day for students with emergencies when they can be seen by staff. 

“If someone is in crisis, they’ll be seen that day,” he said. 

Day said students are “doing a remarkable job of being able to come back from a pandemic – something that no one has experienced to this extent in 100 years.” 

He added, “We don’t know necessarily what the future looks like, because cases keep going up,” but “the FSU campus is really much more positive and resilient than maybe we give ourselves credit for.” 

President F. Javier Cevallos said mental health is a communal concern and has been a conversation at the Board of Trustees’ level.

He added, “We are worried about the entire campus community feeling that kind of stress and anxiety,” and encouraged students to “take advantage” of the Counseling Center on campus. 

For those experiencing a mental health crisis, the Counseling Center’s web page lists resources students can use. 

The check-in hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., according to the FSU website.

The phone number for the Counseling Center is 508-626-4640 and the email address is counselingcenter@framingham.edu.

The phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. 

Difficulty of being back in person

Gatepost survey respondents were asked how difficult it has been being back to an in-person environment on a scale of 1 to 5 – “1” being not difficult and “5” being very difficult. 

Of the survey respondents, 10.4% selected “5,” 22.8% selected “4,” 27.6% selected “3,” 21.2% selected “2,” and 18% selected “1.”

Many survey respondents said they experienced a sense of uncertainty brought on by the lockdown. 

Ryan Reynolds, a senior communication, media, and performance major, said, “It was weird seeing everyone not on a screen because we’ve all gotten so used to each other in a box. 

“Now, we’re back to being in person where we’re now all being judged, not just on our personality, but how we look.”

Kaily Russell, a senior elementary education major, said, “My transition went from living on campus, online [classes] to living off campus, in-person [classes], and all of my classes happen to be really early. … I have to commute 40 minutes, four times a week.”

Russell said she “was getting used to doing online work. It felt easier. Being back in person full time is a lot harder.”

Angela Orosco, a sophomore political science major, said, “My first year felt so emotionless. I couldn’t make friends with anyone in person and being physically back made me realize how left out I was.”

Rebecca Moore, a junior psychology major, said, “It’s refreshing to be back and see everyone living life as usual. When I walk outside and don’t see people wearing masks, I like to pretend everything is back to normal, even though it’s clearly not.”

One survey respondent said, “I don’t trust that everyone is following protocols and I do get scared imagining someone sick can be in my dorm hall right now.”

President Cevallos said he believes class standing could influence students’ transition back to campus.

He said, “During COVID last year, very few students were on campus and very few first-year students.

“A lot of the second-year students on campus today are actually first-year on-campus students, in the sense that they are experiencing campus life as the first-year students,” Cevallos added. 

“It is difficult for any student from high school to transition into college – it’s a totally different world,” he said. 

Concern for contracting COVID-19 on campus

Gatepost survey respondents were asked how concerned they were about contracting COVID-19 during in-person classes on a scale from 1 to 5 – “1” being unconcerned and “5” being very concerned. 

Of the survey respondents, 7.2% selected “5,” 12.8% selected “4,” 33.2% selected “3,” 19.2% selected “2,” and 27.6% selected “1.”

Ellen Zimmerman, interim provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, said she was “not surprised” the majority of students were not overly concerned about contracting COVID-19 in their classrooms. 

She believes the University “has a good protocol in place.” 

According to Zimmerman, some protocols the University offers are weekly testing for the campus community, an indoor masking policy and reduced class sizes in response to COVID-19.

“We [are] probably safer on campus than we [are] going grocery shopping,” she said. “It wasn’t just that they [students] felt safe, but they actually [are] pretty safe and our COVID positive rate has stayed quite low.”

Sarah Sagan, a senior English major, said, “I think that being vaccinated helps others and alleviates concerns.” 

William Martinez, a junior biology major, said, “Being a commuter and living at home with a big family, I can’t afford to catch the virus. Knowing not everyone is vaccinated worries me.”

Mirari Elcoro, a psychology professor, said at the beginning of the semester, she was “petrified” to reintegrate into an in-person classroom. 

She said, “I didn’t know how comfortable my students felt.” 

She added she is “still concerned because it is not like the pandemic is over.

“Sometimes I struggle with wanting my students to know certain things but I don’t want to take up the whole space of the class. … Juggling the reality of the course and the reality of the University is tough because again, it affects us all,” said Elcoro. 

SGA President McKenzie Ward said she would support requiring a booster shot every six months in order to protect the community.

She said the University should make the booster shots available on campus. 

“People are going to be more willing to do things accessible to them, rather than them having to go out of their way,” she added. 

Online vs. in-person learning

Fewer than half of Gatepost survey respondents, 44.4%, reported they would prefer being offered more online courses. 

However, 84.8% of respondents reported learning better in person than remotely. 

When asked to elaborate, survey respondents reported feeling unmotivated and having a poor classroom experience online.

President Cevallos said, “I’m not surprised at all. I think most people learn better in person.”

Cevallos said he believes “online and remote learning is a tool” and can be useful in certain settings, “but nothing can replace that interaction you have in the classroom. … You learn not only from the professor, but from the students.” 

Interim Provost Zimmerman said the survey data is consistent with research concerning how students respond to online learning compared to in-person learning. 

She said, “People tend to learn better when at least some of the instruction is in person.”

She noted she taught online courses for “many years,” and “found that the students that have taken more of them [online classes] get better and better.

“Like anything else, it’s a new way of learning,” Zimmerman added. 

LaDonna Bridges, associate dean of Academic Success and Achievement and director of CASA, said, “It’s an interesting disconnect between what they tell you that they want and then what they acknowledge [works for them].

“It’s not necessarily just what you prefer [online or in-person] – it’s ‘What are you most successful in?’” Bridges said. “I think there may be a desire for that [online] modality, but the real million-dollar question is, ‘Are they more successful?’”

One survey respondent said, “It was hard adjusting to remote classes and managing my time. Then, I had to readjust to in-person class, which was hard to do. I’m still struggling with time management again now that my classes are mostly in person.”

Hannah Polansky, a senior English major, said learning online was a “dumpster fire” in comparison to learning in person.

Daphne Blanc, a sophomore English major, said learning online was “more relaxed and went by my pace.

“It made me less scared about the workload of the class,” Blanc said. “I also thought professors were more accommodating than previous years because of the transition.

“I did feel like I couldn’t retain all the things I was being taught – like the memories wouldn’t stick,” Blanc added.

Noa Geva, a junior food and nutrition major, said it’s not just fully online classes “but also the online portion of a hybrid class or even just one day when an in-person class goes on Zoom – I end up not retaining anything from that. 

“I also feel like it’s way more possible to form connections with classmates in person and I think that’s a very important part of school,” she added. 

Samantha Collette, a senior fashion design and retailing major, said, “It’s been a lot easier to be back in person. Online and remote learning was nearly impossible as a fashion major.”

Of the Gatepost survey respondents, 47.2% said their academic performance was negatively affected because of the COVID-19 pandemic, while 43.6% said it was not, and 9.2% said they preferred not to say.

Many survey respondents said they had difficulty paying attention.

One survey respondent said, “It was hard to stay on task with my homework when I was doing everything in the same bedroom I slept in, relaxed in, and watched T.V.

“My attention span made doing my academic work a monumental task, and it snowballed. My GPA dropped and I’m on academic probation as a result. I know if I was in person last year, things would have been different.”

Ceilidh Rice, a junior communication, media, and performance major, said, “I mostly saw good things in terms of my grades when I was online.

“I wasn’t struggling with classes before the change, but I did feel more relaxed staying home than having to travel to class every day, worrying if I was behind on my work,” she added.

Concern about students not following COVID-19 protocols 

Only 32.4% of Gatepost survey respondents said they saw fellow students following COVID-19 safety guidelines “almost all of the time.” 

An additional 60.4% of survey respondents said their peers followed safety protocols “some of the time,” and 10.8% said “almost never.”

Cevallos said, “10% – I think that’s a little high.” 

He said he was surprised when he saw 60.4% of students complied with the COVID-19 safety protocols only some of the time.

“I do understand that you get tired of having a mask all the time around you when you are in the classrooms. … But it’s certainly proven that it is effective and it has been huge in terms of controlling the spread of COVID,” said Cevallos. 

SGA President Ward said, “In classes, I see more people wearing their masks and following COVID guidelines, but that’s only because professors are there to enforce it. When [students are] in spaces such as the McCarthy Center, where there isn’t anyone to be constantly re-enforcing it, I don’t see them following the guidelines at all.” 

She added, “I think the employees, the faculty, and staff really need to be more strict with COVID guidelines.” 

Angela Vilgrain, a junior health and wellness major, said, “Sometimes, people forget to pull them [masks] up,” but added she believes most students are “doing their part.” 

Vilgrain said having to wear a mask has “not really” been difficult. “It’s become second nature.” 

Ajen Maharjan, a junior computer science major, said he sees students following protocols. 

“At the beginning, it was hard to put the masks on and it’s hard to breathe and everything,” he said, adding, “Right now, it’s a normal thing.”  

Sabrina Grammatic, a senior English major, said, “Being an SDA, I see quite a few residents never really following them, so I’m a bit surprised that ‘almost never’ wasn’t a bit higher. Almost rarely do people keep their masks over their noses.”

Interim Provost Zimmerman said she believes violations stand out more to people. “If some students are perceiving that people are almost never wearing their masks, then they are not feeling safe. … That is important because we want everyone to feel safe.”

Dean of Students Nowak Borrego said she believes the community has been “respectful” of following the guidelines.

She said there have been people who had multiple instances of not wearing masks and the University set restrictions in place to address this. 

This means anyone disregarding guidelines cannot enter certain buildings, such as the residence halls.

Nowak Borrego said, “Students who weren’t testing like they were supposed to – who are living in residence halls – we have asked to leave at different points until they agree to participate in testing.

“We’ve set our expectations, and if students or faculty and staff can’t meet them, we remove them from being in person in our community,” she added.

Nowak Borrego added the University has worked extremely hard to ensure everyone’s safety being back on campus, but there are going to be times when mistakes are made.

If students are feeling unsafe and observe peers violating COVID-19 safety guidelines, they can report it as a student conduct violation. 

Financial impact of COVID-19

When Gatepost survey respondents were asked if they had been financially affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, 51.6% said they were not, 38% said they had been, and 10.4% said they preferred not to say.

Many of those affected negatively pointed to losing jobs or working fewer hours.

One survey respondent said, “Most of my income was through tips, and with the dramatic drop in customers at my place of work because of the pandemic, my income was greatly affected.”

Another respondent said, “I could not work for the majority of COVID and keep a stable income. As a college student, I would like to be able to balance school, my mental health, and a job.”

Another respondent said, “I was not able to pay the tuition bill on time due to financial circumstances multiple times.”

Christian Rodriguez, a sophomore accounting major, said, “Coming into spring semester [last year], not having the option for fully remote [learning] completely killed me financially – having to spend money moving in, for residency, for things on campus, etc.”

One survey respondent said, “I lost my job, my brother lost his job, and my dad continued to be unemployed.”

The University received funding from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF III), as part of the Federal American Rescue Plan.  

President Cevallos said he was “surprised more students did not complete the simple form” sent in an email Nov. 16 to collect additional COVID-19 relief. 

Any student who has been enrolled at the University during the COVID-19 pandemic may apply for a HEERF grant, including students who are currently enrolled.  

The award amount is based on estimated family contribution (EFC) as per student 2021-22 FAA filing status. Students may receive up to $1,500. 

The email was sent from the Dean of Students Office on behalf of the FSU Financial Aid Office. It states funds can be used to “assist with student expenses due to the disruption of campus operations due to COVID-19, or with expenses in a student’s cost of attendance.”

These expenses may include tuition, fees, housing, food, books and supplies, technology, health care, or child care.

The grant application is attached to the original email. Once students have completed the application, it should be forwarded to the Financial Aid Office. 

Involvement on campus

When asked if they were eager to get more involved on campus last fall, 54.8% of survey respondents said “no” and 45.2% said “yes.”

Jonathan Ribeiro, a senior history major, said he joined the campus radio station, WDJM, but he “still feel[s] a bit disconnected.”

However, he said it was hard as a commuter to “make it to events that happen at 7:30, when your class ends at 2:00.”

President Cevallos said what “worries” him is “students are not leaving their rooms,” and “a lot of people are just going to class and going back to the residence hall and staying in their room.”

He said although he understands people may not want to be around others more than they have to, “engagement in campus life is very important – it’s part of the college experience.” 

He said he hopes “students feel more comfortable.”

He added he has seen a decline in intramural sports. 

“Those are important not only for your health, exercise, but your mental health. It’s a way to relax and socialize and meet with other people,” said Cevallos.

Interim Provost Zimmerman noticed a decline in intramural participation as well. 

“It may be that people don’t feel comfortable being involved with a group in close quarters.

“They just aren’t quite ready to be that physically close to other people,” she added.

One survey respondent said, “I have never been on campus until fall ’21, so I was missing out on the campus and wanted to make friends and see how college life is.”

Amanda Taylor, a sophomore elementary education major, said, “[The Hilltop Players’] virtual show last spring made it difficult for me to connect with new people, especially since I didn’t know anyone as a first-year. Performing in person has allowed me to make friends that I am so grateful for.”

One survey respondent said, “I have and always will be involved as much as possible, so I don’t [believe] COVID-19 affected that.”

Cameron Howe, a junior English major, said he hopes to join more student clubs and socialize more with his peers.

Impact on social skills

Gatepost survey respondents were asked how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted their social skills on a scale from 1 to 5 – “1” being significantly worsened and “5” being significantly improved. 

Of the survey respondents, 7.2% selected “5,” 11.6% selected “4,” 46.4% selected “3,” 20.4% selected “2,” and 14.4% selected “1.”

Rick Brown, a senior communication, media, and performance major, said he bounced back after returning to in-person classes, but felt COVID-19 taught some people to be comfortable by themselves.

“Some people need someone else around them at all times,” Brown said.

President Cevallos said, “It will be interesting to see down the road how that really affects students as you go up through the different stages of careers.”

Cevallos added people adapt to circumstances differently and that’s the “beauty of being human.” 

He said he wasn’t surprised that a majority of respondents felt their social skills were about the same.

Associate Dean Cochran said going into the fall semester, he assumed the transition from remote classes to in-person classes would be difficult for students. 

Cochran said one of his worries was students being “closed up in their rooms and not interacting at all.”

He said it is hard for one to predict how their social skills would be if the pandemic had not occurred. 

“A lot of people are telling students that their reality won’t be what theirs was in college because of the pandemic. But, to some degree, I hope people just let their reality be their reality,” he said. 

He discussed the programs Residence Life runs and how they help people socialize, such as arts and craft events and hot chocolate socials. 

“Really, whatever it is that gets people together, we’ve had a good response,” he said. 

Interim Provost Zimmerman said although she was glad almost half of the respondents’ social skills were not negatively affected by COVID-19, it is “unfortunate” around 35% were negatively affected.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” said Zimmerman. “People haven’t even had the opportunity to really interact, and the opportunities to interact were different for different people.”

How the lockdown has changed the lives of students  

In two open-ended response questions, Gatepost survey respondents were asked what their most difficult experience during and after lockdown was.

For many, the lack of connection and isolation caused loneliness.

One respondent said the most difficult part for them was “losing my freedom to choose. Wearing a mask should have always been one’s choice.”

Another respondent said, “Trying to find the motivation to keep doing the work” was the most difficult part.

“It felt like nothing mattered,” they added.

Senior history major Jonathan Ribeiro said the most difficult part for him was “wanting to have this [COVID-19] behind us but watching people fight getting vaccinated and complaining about wearing a mask, when doing both of them means not having to keep doing this doom circus.”

Professors also had to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects. 

Dr. Niall Stephens, department chair of communication, media, and performance, said the pandemic changed how he taught “in good and bad ways.”

He said he had to be “more organized with how [he] presented information.

“I had to change things up and try new approaches, which is always good,” Stephens said.

However, he said his communication with students was “drastically curtailed.” He said he would ask students to turn on their cameras but most would not do so, and he got “tired of asking.

“I think we got less – less robust interaction, less learning – out of more work,” Stephens said, “so the bad stuff outweighed the good.” 

Students said despite the issues that the lockdown caused, there were lessons learned.

George Porcha, a senior communication, media, and performance major, said following the lockdown that he learned “life is short and that there is so much more in my life that I need to experience.”

He added he also learned “a simple issue like wearing masks can cause division in our country.”

Alicia Donohoe, a senior communication, media, and performance major who had COVID-19, said, “Now that we are so far into the pandemic, I am no longer scared.”

She said she doesn’t know how she contracted COVID-19 as she wasn’t in contact with anyone who tested positive.

Donohoe said, as an RA, a lesson she learned from the pandemic is that “people don’t like wearing their masks.” 

Mollie Pimentel, a junior marketing major, said when the pandemic began, she thought it was “a joke.” However, after contracting COVID-19 twice, Pimentel said she takes it seriously now.

“I sobbed when I got my test results,” she said. 

Carolyn Hernandez, a sophomore political science major, said, “These past two years have taught me to value the time I spend getting to know people and places, and taking advantage of the limited opportunities you have to celebrate.” 

[Editor’s Note: Respondents were not required to provide a name when filling out the survey. Anyone who did not provide a name was anonymous. McKenzie Ward is Opinions Editor for The Gatepost. Carolyn Hernandez is the sister of Staff Writer Stefano Hernandez.]

[Editor’s Note: Mckenzie Ward is Opinions Editor for The Gatepost.]