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Dealing with stress is a key to happy, successful Fall 2021 return to campus

Sacramento State students get a first look at their new dwelling as they move into a residence hall during Move-In Days. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

Nearly 18 months after the threat of the coronavirus disrupted Sacramento State, students, administrators, staff, and faculty are returning to campus life.

Even before the Monday, Aug. 30, start of classes, joyful reunions and introductions were on display among members of the Hornet community preparing for an in-person education experience largely missing for the past year-and-a-half as safety restrictions emptied campus in deference to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is so nice to see you in three-dimensional form,” Melinda Wilson Ramey, Sac State’s interim vice president for Inclusive Excellence, said during last week’s President’s Fall Address at the University Union.

The place has come back to life.

University President Robert S. Nelsen is serenaded by the Sacramento State marching band at the Leslie and Anita Harper Alumni Center during Move-in Days. The Alumni Center was a check-in site for students moving into campus housing. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

The Hornet football team is preparing for a home game. The beach volleyball team celebrated the opening of its new sand courts. Food trucks are once again visiting campus, and Starbucks and other restaurants have reopened. More than 19,000 students are expected to have at least one class on campus, with another 11,500 learning remotely.

As the campus transitions back toward normalcy, however, some trepidation remains. The virus that causes COVID-19 remains a threat. Vaccinations are mandated for those returning to campus, and face coverings are required in indoor public settings. Numerous other measures are in place to ensure that the return to campus is as safe as possible.

The precautions are a reminder that “the pandemic is not over,” President Robert S. Nelsen said.

As the campus community emerges from prolonged isolation, students and others who suddenly are bound by college schedules, time crunches, and commitments may feel anxiety, said Ron Lutz, Sac State’s director of Student Health and Counseling Services.

“We’ve been away for a long time, and as we come back we’re going to have to make some adjustments,” he said, adding that uncertainty creates uneasiness.

“People may be anxious about sitting with other people, wearing masks, having face-to-face conversations,” said Lutz. “There are going to be things that will be a little bit challenging for all of us.”

Student body president Samantha Elizalde senses a mix of excitement and concern among new and returning Hornets.

“There’s a big difference between being at home on Zoom and interacting with one another in person,” Elizalde said as she welcomed students moving into residence halls. “It’s very exciting to be back, but there also is anxiousness.”

The Student Health Center is ready for an expected surge in demand for counseling and other services, Lutz said, with extended hours and more group sessions.

In the meantime, he advised, those returning to campus can do a few things to help navigate the transition.

Unvaccinated students and visitors were offered vaccines at the Alumni Center during Move-In Days. On-site testing for those who are unvaccinated also was offered. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

Like an athlete who is slightly out of shape, members of the returning community should “go slow” at first, he said. “You might need more rest. You need to slowly get into the habit of being back in the world. Think about adjusting your expectations of yourself a little bit.”

Students and others may find that they “are not quite as productive” as they were prior to the pandemic, Lutz said. “Maybe you take breaks more frequently until your body gets used to the routine again.”

Several faculty members expressed both enthusiasm and concern about returning to campus during a Q&A session that followed Nelsen’s Fall Address last week. They asked administrators for guidance about group interactions in class, vaccine requirements, and how to handle positive test results among students.

Biology Professor Ron Coleman said he worries that face coverings will make teaching and communicating with students more difficult. Students with hearing disabilities will be particularly affected, he noted.

Administrators, including Vice President of Academic Affairs Steve Perez, emphasized “being creative” in imparting information safely and effectively. Speaking slowly and clearly and walking around the classroom during lectures can help, and certain types of masks make communicating easier, Perez and others said.

The best approach to easing into the new normal “is to keep yourself safe,” Lutz said. “Wear a mask, get vaccinated, and distance yourself from people who are not abiding by the rules.”

Free vaccinations are available by appointment at the Student Health Center. All members of the Sac State community who plan to access campus or campus programs must certify that they are fully inoculated by Sept. 13. Those claiming religious or medical exemptions will be tested twice weekly.

“The pandemic will forever change us, and we’ll all be working a little bit differently because of it,” Lutz said. “But we’ll get through this. It’s great that we can be together again, and we have a lot of things to look forward to.”


Dealing with stresses of returning to campus

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About Cynthia Hubert

Cynthia Hubert came to Sacramento State in November 2018 after an award-winning career writing for the Sacramento Bee. Cynthia believes everyone has a good story. She lives in East Sacramento with her two cats, who enjoy bird-watching from their perch next to the living-room window.

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