On March 2, 2020, I first learned that COVID-19 would impact me personally before it became the pandemic that worried many Americans into emptying stores out of the essentials. I was doing final preparations for my first trip abroad; I was going to Cape Town with an organization on campus. As American Studies majors/minors and students interested in museum studies, we were planning to use South Africa’s reconciliation of the apartheid to think about memory culture in America. The trip was cancelled. All international trips through the university were canceled. I was devastated, but understood. Though none of this prepared me for what was to come, it was my first warning. Soon, I saw how campus would change in a very short time. On March 9, travel advisories were sent to the campus. Students would have to report where they’d been to the university. By March 11, spring break was extended and I was told that I may have to move out of my dorm. The status of my multiple jobs, including one as an Resident Advisor, was unclear and I didn’t know if I was going to get a paycheck. Other students were told not to come back to campus, and my peers worried how they would be successful students from home.
For me, a student who worries about how I will eat and where I will be able to get work done when I’m home, and relies on my school income to provide for myself, these changes were frightening and stressful. Would I be forced to go home? Home wouldn’t be a positive work environment. I share my room with my younger sister, another college student who would also have remote classes via Zoom. My living room is basically a playroom for my four year old brother. How would I be able to find a productive workspace that allowed me to listen to lectures? How would I actively participate? I instantly grew anxious and upon receiving the first email, I wrote to my college Dean. I watched as my peers from other institutions were told not to return to their campuses at all. Many students like myself were kicked out of their dorms and sent to their homes not knowing what their fate would be, how they’d eat, and for some, where they’d live.
Students were told that campus would be closed temporarily and if students wanted to return for their things in their dorms, they had a 2 hour window during one weekend to do so. Fortunately, a small number of students were allowed to remain on campus if we applied. When I was told I would be able to stay on campus I was relieved. Unlike my peers, I was told that the campus would house me until we were to come back to campus later this semester. This was true for about 3 days. Then, I was told to reapply again because campus was closing for the rest of the semester. Now that I have begun virtual classes, I worry when I will be told that I may have to leave once again. I worry that the stipend UR has provided for me won’t be enough to pay my bills or help out at home. Though each student worker was told we would receive enough income for any remaining work hours, about 6 weeks pay, I received barely enough of my typical hourly pay for a month. COVID-19 has been a challenge for students. Classes I loved were instantly transformed into a chore because we can no longer do the work we planned on doing. I am constantly “on call” because my class meetings schedules are not consistent. I am afraid that if I decide to pass/fail courses because I cannot handle the workload that I won’t get into grad schools. COVID-19 has not just isolated me, it has given me anxiety, hurt my academics, and made everything more difficult than it’s ever been. Yet somehow, this feels like it’s only the beginning.