Day 9, 24 March 2020

We took it for granted, and now it’s gone

I’m heartbroken for our seniors, who won’t get their final semester. For our freshmen, who’ve got the weirdest college experience as part of their foundational year. For our sophomores and juniors for being ripped out of their rhythm and home away from home.

I already knew these things, but today was the day I was giving feedback to my students’ posts from the weekend, and I needed a hankie nearby, because it really hit home. I had asked all my classes to write a reflection on their experience of the past two weeks: as the pandemic crept closer, the announcement came that campus would close for face-to-face instruction, and then the first week of figuring out how the heck we teach and they learn remotely. What worked, what didn’t, how are you coping, what obstacles do you see, what achievements do you want to celebrate (from figuring out how to share a Zoom screen to not completely losing it and anything in between…).

My students wrote very openly and honestly about not having a quiet space to study, fights with housemates, comfort from being with their family, professors who are more demanding (if that’s you: back off!), and how they’re trying to figure out a new schedule and get some work done when in a location they associated with relaxation and rest.

They’re adjusting. They’re making do. They’re also very, very worried and stressed and anxious, as we all are.

I don’t wish to live in interesting times, I wish to simply live and come out with minimal scrapes.

A history student reflecting on learning during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Many students commented on the sudden loss of direct, in-person interaction. And while there were creative solutions, such as virtual breakfast clubs and a schedule to check on friends on a regular basis, these creative spirits also acknowledged that online is not the same. “We took it for granted, and now it’s gone”. And they can’t wait to go out there, and meet friends IRL (in real life) again. I can’t wait either, to have them back on campus, to have them in my class rooms and office and in the library.

I wish I could give them all a big, fat, squishy hug right now. They’ll have to make do with air hugs via Zoom. That’s what makes this disease so horrible: on top of the physical damage it does to your body, you cannot get the comfort of a hug or a cuddle when you need it most to help you fight despair and doom.

When we get out of this current mess, and it’s safe again, I may well start hugging random strangers in the street, and I know I won’t be the only one. Until then: air hugs only. Not even elbows.

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