College During a Pandemic
By Leah Cabarga
Last year, walking through campus made you feel like you were part of something bigger — part of the crowds, the social life, the sports events, and clubs. This year, life is very different. I’m still part of something bigger, however, a monstrous pandemic, elusive because it is invisible, but pervasive, unreal, isolating.
Adapting to this lifestyle of lonely survival, I walk to my only in-person class on a campus that feels like a ghost town. I hear my own voice echo through hallways previously occupied by thousands of students, the deafening constant reminder of the immense changes and challenges we are facing and enduring. It’s hard to escape the loneliness of a huge campus where everything appears vacant — masked faces, the absence of interpersonal communication, and the required six feet of physical distancing.
COVID-19 has altered the much-anticipated exciting college experience. While in class, my mask is even more of a social barrier. Often, it is easier to remain silent, rather than volunteer my perspective and risk not being heard correctly. Sitting in a lecture hall of 25 students six feet apart, there are inevitable moments when I have no idea what is going on or being said. Normally, I would turn to my neighbor (potentially making a new friend) and ask for an explanation — easy, quick, and painless. Now, six feet apart, my options are limited to asking the teacher, which is often embarrassing, especially if I missed what was just explained.
My anxieties have increased not only during my in-person class, but also during online classes. It is harder to reach out to professors over Zoom. And sitting alone in a room, watching classmates through a screen is simply not the same as in-person interaction. The idea of even establishing a connection with my classmates and professors feels futile.
Ultimately, the excitement for the class and college experience has become a memory, and I have even lost my ambition to socialize. Outside of class and around my apartment, while there have been opportunities to meet new people, I am acutely aware of the reality that hanging out with them is a risk. Contemplating social opportunities results in questions that echo in my mind, “Are these students being safe? Who have they been around? Can I trust them?” You can never know.
College isn’t going to be the experience I expected anytime soon. While I understand that we are in the midst of a pandemic and restrictions have been instituted for our safety, I also know that this is not what college is supposed to be. It makes me sad for all we are missing.
Leah Cabarga is a student majoring in English Education at University at Buffalo. She looks forward to a return to normalcy, and knows it is much more difficult for some than others.