Thursday, September 23

One year of COVID-19: life in a pandemic as college students

Just over a year ago, Trevecca’s campus cleared out for spring break; many students and faculty unaware that those classes would never resume in person. Some would never again set foot in a Trevecca classroom altogether.  

Students went from celebrating an extended spring break, to the harsh reality of a pandemic—an email asking them to return to campus when possible, gather their things, and transition completely online for the remainder of the semester as a precaution for a rapidly spreading virus. 

“I was definitely heartbroken when they officially told us we had to pack up and head home,” said Allie Tracy, an intercultural studies major who graduated last year. “I was not going to get to say goodbye to people. Not to friends, not to professors… I said goodbye to my roommate over text. My senior year ended just like that and there was nothing to be done.”   

Graphic by Naomi Overby.

On March 11, the World Health Organization deemed COVID-19 classifiable as a pandemic; the same day an email from Trevecca officials stated that spring break would be extended two days and classes would move temporarily online, from March 18 until March 30 as a precaution for the virus. But not even a week later, the rest of the semester moved completely online.  

“With each email we received, it felt like fresh waves of fear and overwhelming emotions were crashing down on me,” said Jaide Strickland, a senior interdisciplinary studies in elementary education major. “It was really hard for me to grasp and accept the new reality we were facing of finishing the semester at home.” 

This jarring sequence of events rattled students, considering many had no idea that the coronavirus would eventually infiltrate their daily lives so quickly.  

“I had no perception of COVID-19 outside of the news stories about the cruise ship getting stopped from coming in the U.S. because they had active cases,” said Kate McCall, a junior religion major. “I felt very removed and thought it would never have anything to do with me.” 

McCall works a shift at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams during the pandemic. Photo provided by McCall.

McCall worked several shifts at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams over break. At the beginning of the week, things seemed normal, kids constantly in and out of the store with their extended days off—but by the end people were realizing the health risk, feeling the anxiety, and stopped showing up.  

“The shop went from laughing with kids about break days to strongly distrusting strangers by the end of the week,” said McCall.  

Delaine Bowers, a junior social work major, was one of around 35 students who stayed on campus following the official move online due to extenuating circumstances.  

“I lived at the back of campus in Redford by myself. I never saw anyone except my quarantine bubble of a few other people who stayed as well,” said Bowers. “Campus felt like a ghost town, it didn’t have the liveliness that it usually has.” 

Bowers and friend Bri Givens hammocking on an empty campus, on April 18, 2020, two of only a few dozen students permitted to stay. Photo provided by Bowers.

Not long passed before the mental fatigue of pandemic panic combined with virtual classes and lack of socializing started to take its toll on college students.  

“I was very panicked about the nature of COVID-19, what this could mean for me, my friends, family, and significant other. My home Wi-Fi wasn’t equipped to handle three full-time students and two educators at once,” said Isabel Hampton, a vocal performance major. “Doing voice lessons on Zoom and FaceTime was awkward, especially without an accompanist.” 

Bowers struggled with structure and feeling like she was in school when at home doing online classes.  

When the spring semester ended, it didn’t feel final for some, as a commencement ceremony could not be held. Seniors simply graduated, having to find their own ways to celebrate and feel closure while scattered across the country.  

“Looking back, I can see clearly the stages of grief I experienced,” said Tracy. “Being 22 and having to move into my parents’ home. Yeah, sometimes friends would FaceTime or my church would do a Zoom night, but we were all grieving and unsure of what to do.” 

Tracy in graduation gown with diploma, following a transition out of college with no commencement ceremony.

When summer passed, students navigated the decision to continue learning remotely, or come back to campus life in its modified form—one with much less connection, but a lot of perseverance.  

Hampton returned to campus but struggled to adjust to the atmosphere that the altered format created.  

“People I previously felt closely connected with, like professors and classmates who aren’t in my immediate exposure circle, have felt distant and it’s definitely been isolating,” Hampton said. “I’ve found myself having to work independently more than ever… it’s been a tiring time in my life.”  

Hampton with significant other Will Browning on a date, wearing masks.

Strickland and Bowers also feel a lack of community being off-campus; Strickland currently working in her education internship and Bowers learning remotely for this semester.  

“I have had moments of feeling like I’ve missed out on my last year and a half of college but I’ve been able to focus and reflect on what’s important because of all that’s missing,” said Strickland.   

Although a year has passed, and masks are still expected all over campus, it’s possible fall could look very different. Tennessee has been rolling out vaccines in phases, and beginning April 5, all adults over the age of 16 will be eligible for vaccines, which would benefit college students seeking to receive one. Some students have already been eligible or received extras by luck, like Hampton. To many, the distribution of vaccines feels like the end is in sight.  

“I’m hopeful that with vaccines on the rise, we can all at least feel more connected and safer with one another again,” said Hampton.  

While students miss normal life, McCall said she thinks Trevecca can remind students that this is a time of separation and help the community grieve through that.  

“I think this has made us more aware of how much we take our friendships and education for granted,” said McCall. “It’s instilled a greater importance for the education I’m getting and has shown me how deeply my Trevecca friends care about the community they’re investing in. 

Also read: One year of COVID-19: the unforgettable experience of pastoring a college campus through a global pandemic

Also read: One year of COVID-19: how Trevecca’s educators adjusted to online teaching

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