I’m standing up after sitting for six hours of Zoom sessions, welcoming the familiar feeling of thousands of leg and butt cells buzzing back to life after going numb during the first hour.
As the weeks of online classrooms due to Covid-19 progressed, ruthlessly snatching away the Spring semester of my Senior year, my stamina, focus and motivation decreased, as did course and professor quality.
The silver lining is I am still graduating, with honors. Sure, promising employment leads that were everything but the official offers have dried up due to virus-related hiring freezes, but that’s a different story.
If I’ve learned anything this semester and throughout the pandemic, I’ve learned it is not a matter of if college campuses reopen in the fall. They must.
Before getting into the nitty gritty of how this pandemic upheaved my sense of normalcy as a college student, I want to preface what is sure to be an enraged description with how much I’ve loved being a current student at Brown University. My professors this semester were nothing short of gracious, flexible and accommodating during truly unprecedented times. They adjusted syllabi, deadlines and page lengths while expressing genuine concern and support for me and other students. And for that, I am incalculably grateful.
Since March 30, and after Brown kicked students off campus, I’ve been laptop-bound back home in Michigan until classes ended last week. Every day, I’ve received no less than 10 emails related to steps the university is taking, departments offering support, various campus resources reaching out or invitations to numerous Zoom events I have no intent or interest in attending.
The onslaught of communication, none of which offers tangible or concrete help, only highlights the fact that everyone is shooting darts blindfolded in the dark hoping to eventually hit the vacuumed target.
Courses morphed into skeletons of themselves. My professors, all well intentioned, started each class with virus-related announcements and by checking in with us. Seems innocent enough, right? But in an 80 minute class, it often took up at least half of the time, if not more. One day we spent the entire class just shooting the breeze. In my two and a half hour long seminar, I could just kiss the first hour goodbye.
The increased frequency of time consuming check-ins with coddling tones, had the inverse effect on me. Stop obligatorily asking about me and get to why we’ve all logged on. Deep-diving into material is my only lifeline to pretending I’m still on campus mulling about my regular activity. And now even it was under siege.
If check-ins didn’t siphon out all my class time, then it was self-inflicted technology issues on my professors’ behalf. They were all well into their 50s and simply could not work Zoom, especially at the beginning of the transition period. Despite their valiant efforts, I regularly stared back at their disgruntled faces trying to figure out break out rooms, how to share their screen, and, “oh, where’d the chat box go!?” We routinely wasted up to half the time “troubleshooting problems” my little cousins know how to solve or avoid altogether. And then bam: there goes the hour. Our time has ended.
While I appreciate such authentic concern for students and efforts to learn Zoom, I was there for content.
The classroom was now a cemetery for what was previously known as academic curiosity and intellectual hotbeds. The check-in and technology crusade turned students into shells of themselves and drained my professors. Formerly provocative conversation topics sure to get everyone talking was met with worn down, blank stares into the camera and unenthused platitudes ready to get their degrees and go while professors apologized, yet again, for their technological failures.
Needless to say, the learning environment was drastically different and incomparable to how it was pre-pandemic, not to mention losing access to campus-based organizations, activities and Senior send-offs from peers.
I did not sign up for this fraction of a classroom at the beginning of this semester. Yet, to add insult to injury atop of an already disappointing semester, Brown intends to charge the same tuition rate as if it’s delivering the same quality.
It’s not the same.
I don’t know how many times students have to say it in order for Brown and every university across the country to issue tuition-based refunds.
I expected Brown in particular to be at the forefront. It’s so student focused and centers our voices more than anywhere else. Plus its more than $4 billion endowment is supposed to be used as a cushion during these exact type of situations.
But when Brown President Christina Paxson wrote a New York Times op-ed with an economic argument for why schools need to reopen, while failing to address this major concern among students, I lost faith.
Campuses must reopen in the fall. The online education plan in place of in-person classrooms is a facade of things continuing as normal when they actually could return come September.
And to bluntly translate what President Paxson diplomatically wrote, money is the bottom line of this country and makes a convincing argument for anything.
Here’s mine: Students are paying costs of attendance prices that increase every year to fund salaries, pay raises, renovations, programming and effectively keep the university afloat, not to be at home logged into Zoom, but for the on-campus educational experience universities committed to at their inceptions.
So make it happen.