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Creating Community in a Virtual World

Journey Joslin
"Introverts unite separately in your own homes" poster

By: Journey Joslin, senior English major

I once saw a comical poster that read, “Introverts of the world unite… separately… in your own homes!” As an introvert myself, I had to laugh when I read it. Now, it’s not so funny. Only a week after SAU’s student body returned to campus from spring break, a large portion of us left again. This time, it wasn’t for vacation in Florida or a mission trip. Introverts and extroverts alike had to trade the physical classroom for a virtual one as part of the national effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

When traditional students received the email alert on March 12 that our classes were moving online, I went through a whole range of emotions. As I mentioned before, I’m an introvert. My idea of a perfect evening is curling up on the couch with a good book, a cup of tea and my dog. However, this wasn’t just another spring break for me to relax and enjoy time off with my family. This was a transition from the in-person classes I loved to an online format about which I was uncertain.

I had previously taken online classes through another institution, and I had always struggled with them. I love being a part of SAU’s campus community, and I wondered if it would be possible to retain that sense of community in the virtual world. 

I began the first week of online classes with a lot of anxiety, mostly because I worried I would let something slip through the cracks. I had an established routine on campus; what would happen when I tried to recreate that at home? In past online classes, keeping up with everything had been a struggle. Inevitably, I would forget something and my grades would take a hit.

We’ve been online for five weeks now, and the difference between those old classes and my online classes at SAU has been night and day. The professors who worked so hard to make the in-person classroom a rich learning environment not only transitioned their curriculum online, but entirely rewrote it so that it’s more suitable to the virtual environment. By the time I got home on Saturday, March 14, all my professors had sent out emails explaining the new schedule and their expectations. Their hard work made it possible to immediately write up my own schedule so that I know exactly when every post, paper and project is due from week to week.

Even with a detailed schedule, the online learning experience is only as good as class participation. Part of what makes SAU’s student community so special is the effort they have put into making the most of this new situation. Those students who contributed so much in the classroom have created the same sense of community online. We might be sitting around separate computer screens in various parts of the country – and the world – but that doesn’t mean we’ve lost our connection to one another.

I think that’s what I appreciate the most about the SAU community. What could have been mass chaos was instead a relatively smooth transition from one format to another. All my professors bent over backwards to make sure that we had the materials we needed and didn’t feel isolated. My classmates and friends have put in the effort to make digital conversations as profitable as in-person ones. Even platforms like Facebook and the SAU App have become places for conversation and support as we all navigate this new system. We might have to be introverts now, but that doesn’t mean being alone.

There is no denying that spending the last half of spring semester off campus hurts, especially for the seniors graduating this year. As much as we wish we could be together, we also know this is necessary. Christ calls us to love one another not just when it’s easy, but sacrificially, all the time. Right now, that means taking a step back and preventing the spread of a potentially deadly virus. SAU’s love for its people, as well as the greater community, has never shone so brightly as it does now. We may be separated, but we are also united in this effort to protect those around us. It’s a sacrifice worth making — and we’re making it together.