Pandemic in the Classroom

By Cindy Rojas


It was on the news everywhere: a “plague” had broken out in China, causing respiratory problems – a virus that is now known as the coronavirus or COVID-19.

Although abroad, the news itself was intense between December and January. When the first couple of cases appeared in Seattle, I started to sense the gentle ripple effect across the nation.

As if the news couldn't intensify, it did. Cases were increasing and spreading, and all I could think about was how long it would take to hit New York. Never did I think that the current circumstances we each find ourselves in would happen.

It felt like a scene out of the movie The Day After Tomorrow, except this was a metaphorical wave approaching our city, consuming each nook, leaving no one unscathed.

People panicked. We had no direction. My only true compass was my university; I trusted that whenever the system decided it was time for action, whatever that was, it meant this was real, and it wasn't going anywhere.

The week of March 16th, I lost my job. Then I received an email from my school, located in New York City, announcing a week-long break while it positioned itself for going remote until further notice.

As we adjusted, coping mechanisms flourished among professors and students. Some of our professors disappeared – they emailed us assignments when needed, and that was it. Some communications became a scene of tumbleweeds passing by, like in a ghost town. Others pushed through, carried on to the best of their ability to engage, lecture, and keep us connected. Others injected their energy into other departments, demanding refunds on their tuition and service fees.

As the pandemic worsened, we learned of the passing of faculty and students who had tested positive. We held our breath, hoping health services would not contact us to let us know that we had been exposed to someone who tested positive.

Summer allowed us to recharge from an overstimulated semester. Some of my classmates took the time to flee New York and unite with their families; others devoted themselves fully to their classes, searching for a balance and keeping busy. Our next wave of angst took the form of a lingering question: what was going to happen to us in the upcoming semester?

We soon learned our university's plan to remain remote for the students' and faculty's safety. How is it going, you ask? Well, between the headaches from having too much screen time, missing the engagement and energy of being around other people, lacking the simple ability to raise your hand to speak without feeling like you're disrupting the professor since they can't read the room with the faceless circles staring back at them – well, how do you think it’s going?

If only it were just this semester that students had to be concerned about. Some are optimistic about being back in school for Spring 2021. They are making arrangements to move back to the city. Others, however, are staying still. And some are simply stuck, paralyzed by a lack of information.

One thing is clear, though: COVID-19 is still here, and cases are again increasing in Brooklyn and Queens leading to the closing of schools and non-essential businesses. Nothing is certain for 2021.

The election is mere weeks away. Every vote counts. Make a plan. Vote. It's time for 46.