I’m fortunate enough to be writing this from the comfort of my own home and in good health. Many people currently are not, which is why it is so important to follow the guidelines set in place by qualified experts to slow the spread of COVID-19. What I’m sharing is my experience with the pandemic as a college student.
On Tuesday, March 10th, amidst rumors flying around Oberlin College, the college president sent an email to students announcing that classes would end March 18th, two days earlier than planned for Spring Break, and students should pack for the possibility of leaving campus by the 21st. The following day, we received an email confirming that we needed to be off campus by March 21st unless we petitioned to stay (an exemption made primary for international students). By Thursday, two days later, a new email told us classes would end the next day and we had to depart from the dorms by Monday the 16th, four days after receiving the email.
Though the specific timelines varied college to college, my friends across the country experienced the same thing; the chaos of booking flights last-minute, packing our lives into boxes and suitcases, deciding what to leave and what to take, all the while questioning every potential symptom. Is that sore throat from stress or do I have the virus? Is this bone-deep exhaustion from packing instead of sleeping or do I have the virus?
A Culver City resident had to leave her freshman year at Macalester College in Minnesota, but explained that the college had “said they would do everything in their power not to send [students] home and students were very open about not feeling safe traveling and wanting to stay on campus,” especially due to the large international student population. This daily, and even hourly, updating change of course is simply an unavoidable byproduct of such a rapidly evolving, unprecedented situation for colleges and universities.
As a result, college students are returning to their hometowns all across the country and even around the globe. Or, in some cases, to others’ hometowns. Jooske van Houten, an international student from The Netherlands, is staying with me in Culver City to continue classes remotely.
“We were very uncertain about if the rest of the semester would be at home or if it was just for a while and then we would come back,” she explains, sharing her reasoning for coming to California from Ohio instead of returning to Amsterdam. “And then another reason is that I didn’t wanna be cooped up in my home for the next five months . . . But also just to extend that feeling of being in college. I wasn’t ready to go home yet – we’d just come back, it felt like, and I wasn’t homesick and I was having the best time.”
So, we both boarded nearly empty planes, rubbed our hands raw with hand sanitizer, and quietly hoped the person in the seat before us, the flight attendant or the countless people whose germs we came into contact with traveling weren’t sick. For that matter, we hoped we weren’t unknowingly transmitting the virus.
A big part of the impact for everyone is the feeling of isolation that comes as a symptom of social distancing, and college students especially feel that. Transitioning from seeing friends every day in classes, at meals, and in dorms to living with family alone can be difficult. Of course, it’s a necessary sacrifice, and mild in comparison to the consequences of staying on a residential campus and continuing social interaction. As one college student put it, “Culver City is calm with everyone staying in and we aren’t fighting too much but going from freedom to this is hard.”
That particular college student happens to be one of my best friends, which presents another manifestation of the pandemic’s strangeness for college students; friends you haven’t seen in months are nearby, yet seeing them is dangerous. Worse than that, though, are the social media posts of peers blatantly ignoring necessary measures in favor of seeing friends and gathering in groups.
Coming home from college can be exciting – seeing family, friends, going to your favorite hangouts and restaurants. But, what us college students – and for that matter, any students – need to remember is that this is not a break to go out and have fun. Professors and teachers have to completely rework syllabi and lesson plans and we all have to adjust to remote learning, which is much more difficult for those with limited internet access, food or housing insecurity, or any type of unstable home environment. People don’t have the luxury of ignoring medically necessary precautions for the instant gratification of staying in physical contact with friends. This isn’t just Spring Break; this is our moral obligation to protect each other.
Editor’s Note – Ms. Crunk was an intern at CC Crossroads in the Spring and Summer of 2019