In May, Women for Florida State University spoke with Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Amy Hecht to discuss FSU's efforts supporting students while navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.
Q: Overall, what has your role been in helping Florida State University students during the COVID-19 pandemic? What has the process been like?
A: When the effects of COVID-19 first became apparent, I was part of the decision to end in-person courses post-spring break. There were many factors in deciding to continue classes online. However, university leadership realized it was the most efficient way to ensure the safety of all students. Once the decision was made, I coordinated all areas of Student Affairs to transitioning online for the remainder of the spring semester—creating online events, ceremonies, activities, telehealth, telemental health and more. We quickly developed Virtual FSU, a platform where all students can find resources usually provided in-person, but online. Other universities nationwide have since used Virtual FSU as a standard of what they can be doing for their students. We also started the process of how to safely move our students out of their dorms while still abiding social distancing.
I was also involved in decisions regarding how FSU continued with an efficient virtual commencement ceremony to properly honor all graduating students. For the class of 2020, I am also looking into what a future event looks like for when we bring them back to campus for an all-encompassing graduation celebration weekend.
Currently, I am focused on the fall and what the FSU experience will look like—from living on-campus and in the Tallahassee community to events, programs, training, community building and how we engage and create a true FSU experience in this "new normal." Student Affairs is used to thinking on our feet, but this transition period has been a testament to how quickly the FSU and Student Affairs team can adapt and overcome any situation.
Q: What have been some of the biggest barriers or challenges, both personally and professionally?
A: Personally, my daughter, Izzy, was born in February 2019. Shortly after her birth, she was diagnosed with pulmonary atresia, a congenital heart defect. She was rushed to Shands Hospital and spent about a month in the PCICU, but I think we were even more nervous bringing her home. With special equipment to monitor her at home, she started to thrive and is now a one-year-old walking everywhere! She may need surgery at some point, but by then, we pray research will have even more advances.
The year 2019 brought more challenges than we could have imagined when three months after Izzy was born, my daughter Josie, then four years old, was diagnosed with leukemia. Josie underwent 28 days of intensive chemotherapy, with my husband and her living in Gainesville, Florida, during part of her treatment. We spent a lot of time at Shands Hospital as the treatment process is long. We're currently in the maintenance phase, and she will complete her chemo in July 2021. We were looking forward to getting back to a more "normal" life and traveling, but with COVID-19, we are once again homebound and even delaying her start to kindergarten until Fall 2021 since Josie is immunocompromised until she completes treatment.
For my family, we are concerned with two very high-risk children and the unknown about COVID-19. We are not as willing to take personal risks that affect our children, and have learned to be even more patient as I know life will get back to normal. The most important thing is the health and safety of your loved ones. Seeing your children struggle and undergo medical treatments makes you realize that staying home is a small price to pay to keep them safe.
Professionally, there are no answers. This is uncharted territory, and we're being vulnerable and working to make the best decisions with the information available at the time. Helping staff be okay with the uncertainty, and understanding this is a challenging time for everyone. Being supportive, but ensuring we are doing the best we can for students and Florida State.
I think it is too early to tell, but we have seen some students rise to the occasion and deal with unfortunate and disappointing circumstances. We have witnessed them reach out for help and support, which is a very positive sign as no one should handle this alone. It's challenging because we do not have the financial resources to do everything we want to do for our students. We established a Student Emergency Relief Fund, providing students the opportunity to apply for aid through privately-funded dollars. Many FSU students lost their jobs when the university shut down, so this was our way of trying to help bridge that gap. Thanks to our generous donors, we were able to help 809 students, but there is still a large unmet need. We are actively raising funds for as we continue to help students pay for rent, tuition, food and textbooks.