By Stephen Neukam
As Rider students returned home and bid farewell to their spring semester after the university’s decision to discontinue in-person classes due to fears over the coronavirus (COVID-19), the student body of Westminster Choir College (WCC) was faced with an even harder goodbye — the possibility that it was their last time going to school on the Princeton campus.
With the university’s plan to consolidate the Princeton campus into Lawrenceville in the fall, students like freshman musical education major Maryrose Canevari might only spend one year on what she described as her “dream” campus.
“It’s just weird to think that we will only get one year on that campus, maybe,” said Canevari. “Because this was my dream school and a lot of that had to do with location and how beautiful our campus is and the tiny feel it has of a tight-knit community.”
Adding uncertainty to the process is the legal action that continues to attempt to block the consolidation. While the latest legal outcome was positive for Rider, with a motion to dismiss two lawsuits against the university being granted on March 2, the outcome of that hearing is being appealed.
Canevari has had an unusual and tumultuous freshman year of college. With a class of only 36 students, she has dealt with an emotional process of learning more about Rider’s consolidation plan and watched as 71 of her peers sued the university. To top it off, COVID-19 has separated her from friends and added more anxiety about the future than ever.
Canevari was in choir when she learned that the university would initially extend spring break by a week, and she said the events that led to the termination of in-person classes happened fast.
The biggest obstacle is adapting to remote instruction. Since WCC provides a performance-based education, it is difficult to transition that to an online format.
The students cannot sing together in a choir online because of the delay in the video feed and poor audio quality. While Canevari has access to a computer, internet and has a violin and trombone in her room right now, she empathized with her classmates that may not have the same resources.
“Piano [classes] have been interesting,” she said. “Some people don’t even have pianos at home — I am lucky enough to have one.”
One strategy that students have resorted to is muting their audio and all singing together, relying on the honor system that everyone is actually singing.
All of the school’s performances have been canceled as well. Some of these events were part of a class curriculum and were supposed to be a requirement for their education. On top of that, the performances are one of the most historical and storied parts of the school’s culture and senior voice performance major Christina Han was devastated that the students would not be able to perform this year.
“Our artistry has been taken from us,” Han said.
Han came into the year excited about everything she would experience in her final semesters as an undergraduate. Now, what she looked forward to, such as performing with the Philadelphia Orchestra and putting on recitals, has been stripped away.
“There is now just a bunch of ‘what-ifs’ instead of actual experiences that could have been,” said Han. “It’s absolutely devastating.”
COVID-19 has also presented students with housing problems. Junior musical education major Christina Griffin lives in Maryland and has not been able to return to New Jersey to retrieve her belongings. Also, she lives in an off-campus house with friends, and they had to house-hunt for a place closer to Lawrenceville for next semester without everyone actually even visiting the houses.
The adjustments have been especially hard on Griffin, who has asthma as well as a 91-year-old grandmother who she is not able to see right now.
“It’s been really hard to not see her and social distancing because she and I are really close and I don’t want to compromise her health in any way,” said Griffin.
While the students have been sent home across throughout the country and the world, they say that the community and culture of WCC have followed them and made it easier to cope with the stress of everything.
“We make do with what we can and this is a testament to the Westminster community’s love for one another that we are still able to exist and cope,” said Han.
Griffin said that it is the people that are at WCC, not the campus, that makes the community so special and close.
“When things get hard at home, I know I can always reach out to my friends and I know that they will be there for me no matter what,” said Griffin. “It doesn’t really matter where we are — it’s who we have become as a community that really made us into a family.”
After everything that Canevari has dealt with during her first year of college, she said she would always choose WCC again.
“If this is the way that it had to happen and I could go into the past and look at my future I would absolutely choose Westminster over anything else,” said Canevari.