The COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed what college is. Right now, college is no longer an experience, it instead is completing weekly assignments and turning them in by the due date. There is no social aspect. There is no making new friends or attending meetings. There are no sports games, tailgates, or off campus parties. There is no really getting to know your professors and there is no college feeling. The feeling instead has been replaced with solely anxiety and/or stress. We are basically doing college without all the fun parts. My own journal reflections that I wrote once a week over the past two months have shown the overwhelming feeling I have experienced throughout the semester. Doing college from home has made me feel challenged to a different level, one I have never experienced before. Of course I felt anxiety and stress my other three years in college but this year is different. I wasn’t able to rely on my friends the same, let alone see them enough, I wasn’t able to have any in person one-on-one conversations with my professors. I wasn’t able to use the library or go to other study locations. I haven’t even been back on campus since March. The overall feelings that my reflections show is helplessness and discouragement. Completing this semester under these conditions, with the state of the world basically up in the air, I couldn’t help but feel extremely unmotivated and like everything is just out of my hands. I found myself asking myself what am I doing this for? Will it even be worth it? Being a senior in college this year is what kept me going. Being so close to the finish line. If I was a freshman or sophomore, I honestly don’t know if I would have continued my schooling during these times.
As for what I am learning I will say I don’t think I am absorbing the information as much as I did previous years in the classroom. I actually hated missing class and I was never late. I showed up to just about every class and took notes majority of the time. Online learning has left me not wanting to take any notes, not feeling the need to engage as much. I do feel like it has negatively impacted my learning for this semester but I did expect this to happen. Being in online classes where you don’t even have a Zoom meeting would mean you are taking notes off lecture slides that you already have on your computer. What’s the point? I could have done it anyway to help myself take in the information but this is where that unmotivated feeling comes in. As of now, it is very hard for me to think about the rest of my college education after I finish this degree in the spring. I don’t feel like I want to go back to school for awhile, maybe until things get back to normal or the new normal, whatever it may be. I think I will take my time deciding on what I actually want to do with my life instead of rushing myself off to grad school or law school feeling just as unmotivated and discouraged.
Nicole Gonzales Van Cleve in “Educators Need to Employ Radical Compassion During COVID-19” wrote it best by stating how what we are feeling right now is grief. We are grieving the loss of our normal lives. We are grieving over 200,000 lost lives in America alone. We are grieving the loss of our social interactions. We are grieving the loss of our college experience. She also uses the word distracted, which couldn’t be more fitting. It is impossible to not be distracted by what is going on in this country and in this world right now as we are expected to just carry along and keep submitting all our assignments on time for multiple classes. So much is being expected of college students that if we weren’t run down before this pandemic, we are now. Van Cleve mentions how “our students are impacted by the very social forces and structures we study.” This line is very moving to me. It perfectly describes the challenges we as students are met with and COVID-19 was just added to the mix.
I interviewed two college students through email about what their experience has been like while being a college student during a pandemic. Mikayla who is a senior majoring in criminal justice at American University in Washington D.C. feels like her school did respond decently to the pandemic. They cancelled in person classes and put in place a 10% decrease in tuition. At the same time, she does think that 10% is not enough given how much money it is to attend a school like AU, especially being an out of state student. She felt excluded by their response since they did not really ask for any student opinions when making their decisions and the school did not fulfill the students needs on many fronts. Her living arrangements were greatly affected by COVID-19. She had previously signed a lease for a two bedroom apartment with her one friend and together they found two others to live in the other room. Shortly after moving in, Mikayla experienced two COVID scares, one being her roommate who ended up having strep throat and the other roommate ending up having mono. Mikayla realized that the stress of living with three other people who were still going to work, going out to dinner, seeing their friends and having their boyfriends over was too much. She ended up moving out to live back at home with her family but they of course have to continue to pay the rent for the apartment. A situation many were stuck in last semester, including myself. She also had to quit her job due to the lack of safety precautions/procedures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
As for her stress behaviors, she reveals to me that she was recently diagnosed with severe anxiety, to the point of heart palpitations. She tells me that she feels like her current online school situation along with being stuck in the house with her family has led to her developing this severe anxiety that her doctor even prescribed her Xanax for. She decided not to take it though and instead now sees a therapist once a week over video chat. Despite having to move out of her apartment and her anxiety diagnosis, Mikayla is determined to finish her degree. Being a senior, she says she “has no time for failing” and what has helped keep her focused on her college education is knowing that she is paying for it and that she is just so close to being done.
The second person I interviewed was Savien, a senior majoring in business at Farmingdale State College, a SUNY school. He thinks his school had an okay response to the pandemic. They offered tons of online classes to prevent too many people from coming to campus but he does feel like they should have gotten rid of the in person class option completely. When I asked him how included he felt in his college’s response, he told me that he felt and still feels extremely excluded. He says he has received barely any emails regarding the pandemic and what efforts they are making to help slow the spread or keep their students safe. He also tells me that his school has said nothing about what spring semester will be looking like despite the fact that it is already December. As for how the pandemic has affected his living arrangements, he has been a commuting student since he transferred to Farmingdale from Morrisville, an upstate SUNY. So living at home while being in college is not new to him but he tells me how being with his family 24/7 now has caused some tension with their home. When it comes to his job, he had originally lost it due to COVID-19 but luckily he found a new one. He explains how he is very grateful to be working but he does feel like his higher up are disregarding the COVID safety protocols to line their own pockets. The Italian restaurant he works for continues to fill their seating to way more than 25% capacity, against the recommendations of the CDC and Governor Cuomo.
When it comes to the stressed behaviors he is feeling, he expresses more stress about the current state of our government and our country, rather than for his classes. He explains how he feels like this pandemic has really opened his eyes to all the things that are wrong within our government, which is something many other people may feel. This pandemic has exposed all the cracks within our system and we all have to just stand by and watch as so many people just slip right through them. He says he has taken all his spare time to really understand what is going on in this country when it comes to our government and its systems, like the education system along with others. What has kept him pushing through this semester is he is hopeful for what he will achieve in the future and he wants to make all the people he loves proud.
This project but also this course has taught me so much about students and our education system and what needs to be done to improve it but at this point it is what needs to be done to save it. The pandemic is a huge road block standing in the way of reforming this system. It could be argued that COVID-19 has caused our education system to back track or that it even created more problems within the system, which is true. At the same time though I do feel like this pandemic put the problems that we have within our education system right out on display for everyone to see. It is impossible to ignore the people that our education system is failing, the people that our country is failing. This year has been challenging for so many different reasons but I am hopeful that it will end up making us all stronger and more motivated to make change in the future. Everyone deserves a equal education and everyone deserves an equal opportunity to reach their goals. Universities and Colleges right now may be suffering, along with their students, but this pandemic will not be the end for them. They should see this as an opportunity to change their schools in a way that the students want and would benefit from. Students deserve to have a voice in their education because without us, it actually would be the end for them.