Small towns, remote villages and isolated communities: These are all home to rural Yalies — a niche group of students within the larger Yale community. Many members of this community have found themselves not only trying to adapt to a global health crisis, but also needing to juggle life as a Yale student with life as a rural citizen.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began to affect life within the United States, Yale closed its campus for the remainder of the spring semester. This decision left many undergraduates uncertain about their academic futures, how their Yale lives will intersect with their hometown lives and how the evolving health crisis would alter what remained of their collegiate careers. Clayton Land ’22 weighed in on what the unexpected transition in the spring looked like for him as a rural student.
“When I found out that we were leaving campus, I definitely was worried about how I’d be able to adapt to online classes and work from home 24/7,” Land said. “I live in rural Kentucky, so my Wi-Fi is already not the best, but what worried me more was that my three other siblings would also be sent home from work and school and be using the Wi-Fi as much as me.”
However, Land worked to find a schedule that fit him and his familial needs best, which included “waking up before his siblings to get the best Wi-Fi” and scheduling Yale Summer Session classes in the morning to “have the best service.”
Land acknowledges the difficulties his rural remote experience posed for him and credited the Universal Pass initiative with improving the situation for rural students such as him. “It was definitely a challenge to be remote for the second half of the spring semester and for Yale Summer Session, and that’s why I’m so grateful for the Universal Pass initiative.”
Another student, Sarah Pitafi ’22, noted the difficulty of finding balance between different sections of her life now that she has returned to her rural hometown.
“I’m also a brown woman in a rural and generally white area,” Pitafi said. “So I often feel like I’m switching back and forth between three worlds: my cultural life, my Yale world that’s now only online and the rural small-town life I thought I’d left behind.”
According to some students, the pandemic has thrown many rural students into a state of limbo, as they have returned to their small, remote hometowns as different people than when they left. The community gap between rural remote Yalies and their on-campus peers seems to be widening, Pitafi said.
“I used to be in love with how wide-open with opportunity Yale is and how much is going on, but now because I’m at home and dealing with other constraints and getting used to local culture again I am starting to feel like I cannot keep up,” Pitafi told the News. “I think being remote is a huge burden on your social life, but having to adjust to rural culture as well makes that chasm even bigger.”
As students approach the midterm of the fall semester, many first-year rural students currently on campus are preparing to transition to remote learning. One student, Renèe Deminne ’24, has concerns about such a transition.
According to Deminne, the internet cutting out during class would be a “pretty big problem” for her, especially since providers are slower to respond to those living in rural areas. Deminne told the News that she worries a prolonged internet outage would “derail” her semester.
Such issues are causing some rural students who will become remote next semester to reevaluate their options. “[Internet] is actually one of the reasons why I am looking at staying with a relative instead,” Deminne said. “In high school when we didn’t have internet, a lot of times I’d have to go to a public place with internet like the library to get work done, but in COVID times that is more difficult.”
Over 100 first-year students are currently studying remotely.
Holly Sexton | firstname.lastname@example.org