I was studying for one of my UC Berkeley classes two weeks ago as my roommates discussed the possibility of cancelling their spring break trip due to growing concerns over COVID-19. One by one, I watched them wisely pull out of a quintessential college trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico to abide by social distancing recommendations and avoid potential 14-day quarantines.
When I first heard of COVID-19’s journey across China in late January, I didn’t know it would reach the United States in the way it has. But when my sister living in Italy was placed on lockdown in Rome, I suspected where we were headed. It wasn’t long before I received an email from campus that said my classes would be moved online for the next few weeks.
Like most, my inbox flooded with “cancelled” subject lines. A friend’s production of “A Chorus Line” she’d been rehearsing nonstop: cancelled. A friend’s overnight stay program for prospective students she’d been preparing for months: cancelled. As my friends and I retreated to our parents’ homes across the state we also stomached the realization that time spent studying, relaxing and going out together as friends had also been cancelled.
Then UC Berkeley administration confirmed my new reality of attending virtual classes from the confines of my family’s home would extend through the end of spring semester.
Instead of waking up an hour before my 9 a.m. class, a ten minute gap proves to be sufficient for me to get out of bed and log on to Zoom, a telecommuting service most schools adopted since moving online. Getting ready is still necessary since students — and occasionally our pets — use our webcams to visually appear in class.
The majority of students stay muted during class to limit disruption. However, only one week in, a student who forgot to click the “mute” button has already broadcasted her friend’s breakup to an entire upper division course. Additionally, instructors look to a chat feature for questions, which is much easier to neglect than a student’s raised hand.
We are living in an unpredictable time and everyone is trying their best. But, there is no getting around the fact that the quality level of our UC Berkeley education has deteriorated. As a result, a petition to make all spring semester courses pass/no pass has recently circulated among the student body.
One benefit of online classes, however, is that my 10-year-old step-brother might learn Spanish if he listens in on my language class frequently enough.
While home, I’m also helping care for him and another younger sibling as one parent continues to work in healthcare and another in crisis communication. But, I know I am lucky that ensuring they do their homework is my greatest additional responsibility in this time of crisis.
My heart goes out to Bay Area local business owners hit hard by the (understandable) shelter-in-place order, those inflicted with the virus and their loved ones. At UC Berkeley alone, student parents have lost childcare and those relying on campus and outside jobs have lost income and must now figure out how to take care of themselves and their families.
UC Berkeley has offered students with on-campus housing contracts the ability to move out early in exchange for partial refunds. However, the majority of students who live in off-campus apartments are stuck paying Bay Area rent.
As I watch this moment in history unfold, I can’t help but question what impact this crisis will have on students’ futures. I wonder if companies will be hiring anytime soon. I will graduate from UC Berkeley into a world that is two years post the COVID-19 outbreak. Even if the pandemic passes relatively soon, it’s potential lasting ramifications have even college sophomores like me nervous and wondering.
Rachel Barber is a sophomore at UC Berkeley majoring in political science