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OU's Public Health Discussions studies physical, mental, financial impacts of coronavirus on students

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Mental Health Coronavirus

Public Health Discussions, a group run by OU students, analyzed results from a survey sent to undergraduates regarding changes since the COVID-19 pandemic shifted classes online in March.

An OU student-run public health organization released a study detailing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on OU students. 

OU’s Public Health Discussions is a student activist and consultancy group dedicated to researching and developing solutions for public health issues on campus. Starting in April, the organization began studying the impacts of COVID-19 on student’s academics, health and finances. 

The study was led by public health and microbiology senior Anshule Takyar and a five-person research team, made up of Public Health Discussion consultants

This recent study was sent out as an OU mass email and garnered 303 responses from OU undergraduates. Results showed the impacts of COVID-19 on students are substantial, Takyar said.

Takyar said the main takeaway from this survey was students do not feel a part of the process as they are continuing to wait for OU’s administration to respond and react to COVID-19. To relieve stress within the student body, Takyar said OU needs to be transparent regarding the university’s future and continue showing support to students.   

Changes in environment and class structure have significantly affected the learning habits of OU students, Takyar said. According to the study, over 90 percent of students are unable to learn efficiently with online classes, and over 85 percent of OU students report feeling less motivated toward academic challenges. 

“A lot of people have struggled with self-motivation and self-discipline in keeping up with assignments as everything is … online and you’re not leaving your house,” OU biochemistry alumna and research team member Jennifer Pusavat said. “It’s a difficult mental shift … going from studying in the library or with study groups to working in your room.” 

The effects of the pandemic can also be seen in the physical and mental well-being of students, Takyar said. Students now have more responsibilities than ever as they manage online classes and issues within their personal and work lives. 

According to the study, diet and physical activity have worsened and recreational drug abuse has increased. One in five respondents is also fearful they will pass the infection on to their more vulnerable family members as they work jobs with a high risk of exposure. 

“We had, for example, a response from a single mother who works as an emergency nurse. She said she’s scared of coming back home and exposing her children and said academics are the last thing on her mind,” Takyar said. “Verbal responses (like hers) have shown us the pandemic is a stressor for a lot of people.” 

For some students, relief from these stressors is difficult to find as nearly half of the students who rely on OU’s mental health services are no longer able to access them, according to the study. This, and a lack of awareness regarding online resources offered by OU has taken a toll on students, Takyar said. 

“I think OU has not made resources clear or accessible,” Takyar said. “A lot of people said they wished counseling was online, but counseling services have been online for the whole semester. People just don’t know about resources … (which is why) OU has to make it very clear how they’re helping students.” 

Students have also been financially impacted by the pandemic as, according to the study, over 47 percent of students have experienced job loss among themselves or their families. The financial downturn from COVID-19 has caused some students to evaluate if they will be able to afford tuition, Takyar said. 

“A lot of students are asking about summer tuition … since everything is online now,” Takyar said. “Students are seeing there has not been any rigid reduction in fees and tuition costs, and I think that has caused stress.”

Currently, OU is working to maintain academic fees. As OU President Joseph Harroz said in a May 26 email, tuition and mandatory fees for the Norman campus will remain flat for the third straight year. He also said online fees will not apply to classes moved online due to COVID-19. 

Considerations, however, still need to be made regarding how OU’s administration is going to make a cohesive and comfortable learning environment for students, Takyar said. 

On May 26, The Daily sent a list of 19 questions concerning the university’s plans for the fall semester and received a three-sentence statement from the university in response.

“I think students feel isolated in more ways than one during quarantine … and that connection gap is something they should address when incorporating learning in the summer and transitioning into the fall,” Pusavat said. “Communication between students, administration and professors will be key.” 

A compilation of university, online class, student support and financial resources are accessible on Public Health Discussions' website

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