College in a Pandemic

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Opinion Writer

Before our state lockdown was ordered by Gov. Tim Waltz back in March 2020, I didn’t know what COVID-19 meant for my upcoming semesters. I ended up registering for fall classes not knowing the iceberg of challenges we all were at the brink of. 

The reality of how difficult going to college would be during a pandemic didn’t take that long to hit me.

In the fall, I took 12 credits which, for me, meant three classes for eight hours a week on Zoom. Fortunately, I never lost my part-time job so stressing about getting from work to class was the least of my worries. This also meant that I didn’t have to be around people in a classroom anymore which my introverted side loved. For me, going into a new semester in the comforts of my own home felt like a relief and honestly exciting—but I was mistaken.

I’m a Creative Writing major and most of what I get out of my courses are through workshops. Workshops are full class table reads which serve as feedback sessions on a piece you write. Now, without those in-person classroom feelings, it became hard for me to stay engaged and share openly through the screen. 

It was as if Zoom was the death of me. After anytime someone spoke, you would have to quickly unmute yourself and try to say something before someone else did. Then, if two people spoke at the same time, it took a few more seconds for people to apologize and figure out who should talk next. 

Then, there were those moments when no one would say anything at all. It was hard to tell what people were thinking or at least what they wanted to say. It became frustrating trying to understand gestures and verbal cues through a screen. Especially when half of the class started to turn their video cameras off like myself. 

I remember it was a Monday, and just before I logged into my two and a half-hour class (per usual) the screen you entered before the meeting room popped up. It prompted me to decide unmuted or not and if I wanted to turn my video camera on. This was the first time I actually thought about it. 

I knew in a normal world I wouldn’t have the option to not fully show up for class; I would have to show my face and be present. I also knew that I could potentially lose participation points if I didn’t. 

On the surface level, it didn’t seem to be a big deal because this adjustment was new even for my professors. Many of them stressed the importance of feeling comfortable with not showing my face every class meeting. These were “strange times,” and that we just needed to do the best that we could to make it work. 

It was difficult for me to maintain the student I was before COVID-19. 

Compared to past semesters, I considered myself a decent student. For the most part, I was always willing and wanting to learn, especially in the classroom. And now it was like that was made optional to me. The same expectations I held myself to in previous semesters no longer mattered because we were in a pandemic.  

Even in knowing that much, I still ended up deciding to keep my video camera turned off for the whole class then eventually every week. I would still unmute myself to share my ideas and answer discussion questions, but I became highly detached from what being in college was all about. It was like, outside of this academic bubble, life was still unfolding strangely even eight months later. 

As the semester went on, I simultaneously watched the new coronavirus cases rise and my family and friends continue to struggle to find employment with an overall lack of motivation to talk about anything other than what Netflix shows to watch next. 

Outside of wearing a mask to the store and not being able to eat at my favorite restaurants, I still remained mostly untouched by COVID-19. It wasn’t until one of my friends’ aunt passed away in a matter of 48 hours—that made me feel like everything about this year was evil. Death became frequent and more unreal every day. This is when my creativity checked out. 

In being a writer, I thrive off of amazing things happening in the world. But being in college during a pandemic changed my whole state of flow. I wasn’t able to tap in and out of my happy place like I usually could. This meant no more coffee shops, poetry slams, seeing and being around other creative folk, and having the world around me to inspire me. 

This affected my ability to finish pieces I was working on in class. It also affected my self-esteem. I no longer felt like a writer—a good student who was going places with goals anymore. I became very stunted in a lot of ways, but then came the end of semester. 

In one of my classes on the last day, we shared our highlights of our portfolios followed by the professor sharing with us what we said were our goals at the beginning of the semester for the class. When it was my turn, I shared my insights and what I learned. My professor told me one of the things I wanted to get out of the class was furthering writing in my own voice. 

It made me laugh at myself a little bit because here I was, at the end of the semester, convinced that I lost my voice, my creativity and everything I felt like I had going for me before all this happened, and that wasn’t the case. 

My first semester in a pandemic opened my eyes up to how much I value my education and craft. Being a writer and educated person in the world is needed especially during times of racial reckoning, systematic change and a pandemic. 

As I continue my senior year, I plan on remembering these moments. Above all, the lack of inspiration felt. I think it’s important to remember that we are still individually changing and growing along with the times. Regardless of what is happening in the world, I still have my own aspirations and desires in life. For me, being a creator will never stop, no matter what’s going on.

The future is uncertain, and knowing when and if the world will go back to being “normal” is still up for debate. In the meantime, cheers to all of the students who are pushing through their semesters and showing their faces on Zoom, even in times like these.