Eiliana Wright ‘22 is an English writing major working as the Narrative Journalism Health and Poverty Fellow this year with The Denisonian. She covers health and poverty issues in Licking County, Franklin County, and on Denison’s campus. This is the second part of a series she is writing focused on how people are using technology to stay safe during the pandemic. 

ELIANA WRIGHT, Health & Poverty Fellow — How much more responsibility is on the shoulders of Denison remote students and students who are able to be here on the hill?

When a student commits to Denison, they sign up for largely residential living, multiple student organizations and small class sizes, all of these a trademark of a great liberal arts school. But what happens when a student commits to Denison but never steps foot on campus?

This year, remote students don’t have a chance to be part of the small liberal arts community that, according to Denison, is so important for setting them up for a successful future. Not only are remote students separated from their peers, but they are also not able to use resources provided by the school that is expensive outside of Denison. Due to state-line laws, insurance complications, and the pandemic, they are being forced to improvise with resources, money, and coping strategies they may not have.

Right now there are remote students over state lines who are isolated from their peers and forced to rely on local resources while still paying for on-campus resources they aren’t able to use–like the Wellness Center.

Annika Bruce ‘24, an English Writing and Educational Studies double major from Huntington, West Virginia, who is doing remote classes, is experiencing that exact dilemma. In high school, Bruce was heavily involved in every aspect of student life. She was in the marching and concert band, worked two jobs, and heavily enrolled herself in college credit plus classes at her local community college. She began to express how lonely and difficult the past few months have been for her since she’s started remote classes.

During the school year, Bruce has been living with her aunt, a nurse, in West Virginia. Due to her aunt’s job, Bruce said she is frequently home alone and after having such a busy high school career, she said it’s been hard for her to not be involved with things at Denison. Bruce’s mother, father and brother who all live in Ohio—where she’s originally from—also recently contracted COVID. She said she’s been trying to check up on them as much as possible, but that also means she has been in quarantine for three weeks and she’s tired of being isolated.

Even from the beginning of the semester, Bruce said she could tell that she needed to be seeing a therapist once a week. Therapy has never been available to her because of her family’s financial situation, so the free therapy provided by Wellness Center seemed like a great choice. But when she entered the appointment, things went from bad to worse. The minute Bruce mentioned she was in West Virginia, it became clear that either the call immediately had to end, or she would be forced to drive over state lines into Ohio. So, she got into the car, poured her heart out for an hour, and left the appointment knowing it couldn’t happen again.

Bruce said after the appointment the Wellness Center referred her to a crisis phone line, Protocall, for future use.

She was frustrated. “I am not in an emergency. I just need to be with someone to talk to someone.” She insisted that she wasn’t in crisis–she just needed someone to talk to.

This issue is not uncommon for most people who are seeking effective mental health resources.

Jack Wheeler, a Licensed Independent Social Worker who works at the Wellness Center, emphasized the importance of video conference therapy appointments.

“We feel it is necessary to be face-to-face because we rely on non-verbals. Not only do we need privacy for an appointment, but we also need to see the client without a mask,” said Wheeler.

He explained that the masks prevent the therapists from seeing the client’s facial expressions, which are a crucial part of telling how the appointment is going.
In a situation where Bruce felt it was necessary, she did try to use Protocall.

“It was 2:00 p.m. on a weekday, I couldn’t breathe, and I was on hold for fifteen minutes,” said Bruce.

Even though the intent was good, Bruce knew she had to look elsewhere for help. But even with private insurance, face-to-face therapy is $25 per session and she can’t afford to be going every week.

The Red Thread fund, a fund made for students who come from low-income areas to help pay for additional costs of being a student at Denison, was suggested to Bruce as a resource she could utilize for her situation. Bruce replied quickly though, having already thought through this option. She said she wanted to save it for what it’s supposed to be used for—having an experience at Denison. She had other ideas of ways she could access that money, ways that she could refund the money she paid for resources she isn’t using, but she still hasn’t heard back from the school about the status of her situation.

It’s common knowledge that the first semester in college is stressful. Although, at a liberal arts college known for its in-person student experiences and a pandemic that prevents people from being in-person, the stakes suddenly skyrocket. Bruce told me that by Sept. 25 she was finally able to make a therapy appointment with a local provider for the second week of November, and has been looking forward to it ever since.

The overarching problem about this situation is the little access to resources people have outside of a higher-education institution. Young people come to college with access to all kinds of resources like therapy, financial wellness advice and the writing center, which will hopefully prepare them for the world outside of the institution. But when you leave, it’s harder to find those resources and it’s even harder to pay for them. Therefore, students who were depending on an institution to help them prepare for the outside world are having to walk the fine line between being a college student and having to grow up quickly during a pandemic.

Here on The Hill, Denison administrators attempt to listen to student feedback and try adjusting quickly to the needs of the community. Outside of the higher education system, however, things move slower with even little opportunity for feedback.

EDITORS’ NOTE: In the next article, there will be questions about what parts of COVID-19 life will stick, what resources are available over breaks and some conversations with people off The Hill over Zoom.

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