University Students and the Coronavirus Pandemic
November 16, 2020
Prof. Miriam Schiff, Prof. Ruth Pat-Horenczyk, and Prof. Emeritus Rami Benbenishty study trauma at the Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare. They belong to the Resilience Research Group, which Prof. Pat-Horenczyk heads, and have a long history of collaborating. Therefore, it was a natural decision to conduct a joint study on the consequences of the Coronavirus crisis upon Hebrew University students, exploring their resilience and growth.
Their first study was conducted during the peak of the first wave. One aspect of the study focused on stress associated with media exposure to the Coronavirus, and revealed that media exposure and media-related stress can be perceived as possible risk factors for impaired functioning and coping. It has been submitted for publication.
“University students are not usually seen as a vulnerable group. But between losing their jobs, having their study routines and habits upended, not seeing their friends on campus, and many of them moving back home, students have been subjected to a variety of factors that may contribute to stress and difficulties in their functioning, education, and familial relations.”
Close to Home: A Survey of Hebrew University Students
At the same time that the researchers were preparing their study, Hebrew University Rector, Prof. Barak Medina, and the Dean of Students, Prof. Guy Harpaz, contacted the researchers – to hear how students were coping and identify students who needed help. They opened the door to a University-wide survey, in which 4,700+ Hebrew University students across faculties and disciplines participated.
The study revealed the students’ pressing concerns. Their top three concerns were when the emergency situation would end, the virus’ rapid spread, and restrictions to their daily lives. On a personal level, students were worried about their families, financial matters, and loneliness. Yet despite these concerns, the more support the student received, the better they were able to cope.
“It is a badge of honor for the Hebrew University that students supported the University’s Coronavirus policies, much more than national or governmental policies. This may be due to the fact that these policies were tailored to their specific circumstances, while the University also reached out to offer academic, emotional, and financial support.”
Interestingly, while Arab students and students in quarantine emerged as especially vulnerable, students who self-identified as either ultra-Orthodox or parents were more resilient.
Based on their findings, the researchers recommended creating a University support system to help address students’ emotional and academic needs, while taking steps to ensure that the students continue to have faith in the University’s policies.
Expanding the Study: In Israel & Abroad
This study inspired colleagues around the world, who have adopted and disseminated the Hebrew University researchers’ questionnaire among university students in Europe, South America, and the United States. They have already published a comparative study with Ukraine. The questionnaire has also been used at research universities and academic colleges across Israel.
The researchers are now conducting a second-stage study in conjunction with other research universities in Israel. To date, they have collected 14,000+ responses. Given the amount of time that has lapsed since the pandemic’s outbreak, its cumulative effect, and long-term consequences, the second-stage study will be expanded to include attitudes towards dropping out, emotional difficulties (e.g. depression and anxiety), coping, and personal growth.
“Although many students report emotional difficulties, many reported receiving support, trusting the university’s handling of the crisis, and showing growth under these difficult circumstances. We hope that by shedding light on the risk and protective factors that relate to the students’ ability to cope and their self-reported need for help can guide the development of appropriate support services.”