We are wrapping up our 4-part, Coping in Quarantine series with University of Texas at Austin student Briana Davis. In this blog post she shares her experiences as a student during COVID-19. The goal of the 4-part series is to highlight the resilience our students have demonstrated in the transition to virtual learning and also create a connection across student experiences.
This will be my second blog post through College Forward and I have made the decision not to be anonymous this time. To share my continued story is my humble attempt at bringing insight to a marginalized population on campus. There have been some hardships in which we as working students have had to remain flexible, especially throughout recent civil unrest, natural disasters, and of course, the COVID-19 Pandemic.
In my previous blog post, I mentioned a bit about my background. To recap, I am a mixed-race female at the age of 23, studying Anthropology and African American Studies and Diaspora. Regardless of the hardships of adjusting to a pandemic, I am now thriving as a student intern, studying archival material through the University of Texas, amidst singing and performing in online shows with local artists. Although my situation seems stable now, I’ve definitely had to adjust to virtual learning and living out the rest of my college days at home. I am still ruminating on the full effects working/learning from home has had on not only myself but students like me.
At the start of the COVID Pandemic, I remember the shock and paranoia I experienced upon hearing the news of the COVID-19 threat. I spent nearly an entire month alone in my apartment with my dog Kobe. I began to notice its effects on my body and mental health early on. I was luckily in a position to stay with my parents to catch my bearings about a month into the pandemic. I remember those initial four weeks being a very strange and frightening time for me. The third week of my self-quarantine I traveled to the grocery store, I was out of the shelf-stable foods I had been rationing from my pantry. Although I was already a seasoned cook at the time and didn’t rely on fast food, the inability to venture out to grab a Chipotle bowl was surreal. Businesses, restaurants, and The University of Texas closed its doors as the world panicked. I busied myself with refashioning clothes into new clothes with an old sewing machine my mom gave me. I wrote poetry, and songs, I dove into my spirituality and even picked up piano for a second time. Spending time with my dog was crucial for my mental health, without him I would’ve been so lonely. Before the pandemic, I was everywhere at once. A lasting effect of my self-quarantine is that I’ve now become an introvert, and have grown to know myself more, and have even picked up a few new talents.
Adjusting to student life during a pandemic was challenging but necessary. The University had sent emails to all students about a month after class was canceled, outlining their plan for action in regards to virtual learning. I was suddenly a virtual student. My first day back in “class” was a new experience, yet intrusive, in a way. Suddenly, my classmates could see my bedroom and my kitchen, where I ate and rested. These spaces of preparation and rejuvenation became my classroom and workspace and blending these spaces has not been easy. With time and time management, I have found a way to balance my studies and life all in one place. I know many students my age are struggling to stay motivated in their online classes just based on conversations I’ve overheard and have been a part of. This impact on our mental organization is an observable effect of the pandemic, I cannot speak to the effects yet to be discovered. I strongly suggest that vulnerable students like myself join support groups on campus. I was able to cope and adjust during a difficult time thanks to The Fearless Leadership Institute. FLI is an interest group whose mission is to empower and educate women of color. During quarantine, when I felt as if I had been alone too long, our interest group would check in with everybody. Having this support from the people around me was definitely key to my recovering during the start of the pandemic. FLI’s mission is also to set women up for success academically, it was Thais Moore and Dr. Tiffany who set me up as a Mentor with a student Mentee (also participating in FLI) and suggested I get involved in some internship opportunities on campus. My Yoruba professor at the time, Abimbola Adelakun, was happy to help me apply to any research opportunities on campus that would fit my majors, and luckily I landed the internship I am in today.
One event that happened earlier this year has etched itself into my mind. The “SNOVID” instance in Texas, greatly impacted the majority of Texans earlier this semester. To have survived through this event as an adapting, working student is most definitely a blessing every student living in Austin will remember. My mother is and has been an essential Respiratory Therapist throughout the pandemic, fighting the COVID-19 in the ICU. Being apart from her, not having the luxury of in-person contact, and the constant knowledge of the risks she takes helping those in need has weighed heavily on my family. The general lack of support from the University of Texas during this time, not a single widespread weather warning for students, or student access to fresh water and clothing, left me dissatisfied as I watched neighbors in my powerless complex fetch pool water to flush their toilets. The students living off-campus and in parts of South, West, and North Campus were left to fend for themselves. The inflexibility of the cost of tuition as students and families of essential workers navigate challenging times (affecting their mental health, ability to work and see their families) has been equally disappointing.
Despite those negatives, I will conclude this blog post with positives by congratulating my Mother and the amazing professors and advisors that helped us young adults through the Spring and Fall semesters of 2020. Without their empathy, flexibility, and overall willingness to be of assistance during this international health crisis, many of us wouldn’t be here and I would not have had the opportunity to share my experience with you. Throughout the pandemic, I had the opportunity to sit with myself and my thoughts for a solid month. This time alone was beneficial to my development as a human being because I feel it allowed me to live a short period of my life without distraction. During this quiet time, I leaned into my creativity for comfort and realized my potential to take an idea in my head and to manifest it in reality. I had a chance to breathe outside of the expectations this success-driven society has for students like me. I’d also like to mention my advisor, Ian Marsh, for being a mediator between my professors and I when I really felt my mental health taking a turn for the worst. Because of these amazing people that saw my potential and pushed me toward graduation, my FLI family, and my Mother, I am in a much better place this semester and am looking forward to graduating.