Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

NARRATIVES: A semester cut short

A student’s reaction
McKenna Premus/Daily Collegian

The situation brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak is one that no one asked to be in. Tough decisions had to be made, like suspending all in-person classes and recently shutting down the campus until further notice. A month ago, all this seemed impossible, the virus looked like media hype, the cancellations seemed to be an overreaction and the possibility of ending the semester early was just too ridiculous and too sad to even think about.

Now, as we look at our current reality, I can’t picture a different outcome than the one I am in: quarantined, in my house, waiting.

The week everything changed

The University of Massachusetts announcement for remote course delivery came on March 11, the Wednesday before spring break. Classes would be held online for the two weeks following the break and students needed to leave campus. Students told to leave their residence buildings were also notified that, should this remote work policy be extended, plans would be developed for students to retrieve their belongings that still remained in residence halls.

Having already anticipated that UMass would announce remote course delivery, I was in no way shocked by the announcement. I went on with my classes for the week, said my goodbyes to those I would possibly not see again and prepared for the uncertain weeks ahead.

Two days later – March 13, the Friday before spring break – UMass announced in an email that did not reach inboxes until 5 p.m. that in-person classes were to be suspended for the rest of the semester. At this point, I had already left campus along with many other students. I sat at my kitchen table, saddened but not shocked by the news. I began to realize what this might mean for myself and many other members of the UMass community: a loss of a home, a community, a job and safety.

Although I was frustrated that the semester had to end this way, I knew that it was a completely necessary decision. After the initial shock, I decided to take a breath, count my blessings and wait for more information regarding move out plans and course delivery.

Locked out of home

It seemed that all we could do was wait. I grew more and more frustrated. After the official announcement that Friday evening, the community received small updates each day, via email and the official coronavirus update website. This included instructions to stay away from campus and that a plan for students living on campus with belongings still remaining in residence halls would soon follow.

The university then made plans for five residence halls to move out the weekend after the remote instruction announcement had been made, informing the rest of campus still awaiting their belongings that instructions would follow in the coming weeks.

What happened the next week, however, was a stay-at-home advisory from Governor Charlie Baker. This caused UMass to suspend all move-out plans until the advisory is lifted, leaving the rest of campus unsure of when they will be allowed back to obtain their belongings.

It didn’t seem fair to make students wait so long for information and plans regarding their own personal belongings and restrict this process. I sat in my house with plenty of time to return to campus and the ability to do so in a way that would be efficient, yet I was locked out of my residence hall and barred from campus. What made it all the more frustrating was that there was so little time for students to make plans after the announcement had been made. Waiting to make moveout plans in a rapidly evolving timeline did not feel like the best move.

I have an advantage. I am an in-state student, so I wondered what this process meant for out-of-state or international students whose move-out process required more planning and expense. I again found myself helpless and discouraged as the pandemic raged on.

Facing job insecurity

More than just stranded without their belongings, students and staff may find themselves in the same situations as many across the country: unemployed.

With the closing of campus came the end of many on-campus jobs. At first, it was all speculation; there had not been an official announcement regarding employment, and information did not reach student employees until March 23 in an email that extended payroll for two weeks. Payment would end after that final payment, and students who would need extra financial support were required to fill out a form in order to find out if they were even eligible.

I counted myself lucky to have a new reality living at my parent’s home, both of whom are still being paid and whose house I was able to occupy, no questions asked. I didn’t bother filling out the form – I knew that I would likely not qualify and if there was only a certain amount to give, there were certainly people in much more difficult situations than the one that I am in.

I was still bothered by the decision, though, as I struggled to understand why students who were now experiencing financial hardship had to suddenly defend their eligibility. A loss of income is a hardship to anyone, especially when that loss happens so suddenly. Not only that, but my worries also turned to staff members whose jobs are now deemed “nonessential,” but who are instrumental in keeping the University running when we are not in a crisis. Have they also experienced a loss of income? I still am not sure of the answer.

Struggling with blame

This entire situation is unprecedented. It is a time that requires rapid decision making, none of which will work for every single person. I was, of course, frustrated with how this semester came to an end and the updates we continue to see daily. There are times that I wonder if better decisions could have been made.

But spending my time trying to find someone to blame for my and others’ misfortune is not beneficial. It is not the fault of a single individual, but rather the fault of something beyond our control: nature. At the same time however, it evokes strong emotions from everyone as we are only human.

The emotions I saw from my peers the day of that announcement, and the emotions I see each day as this new reality progresses, are some that I will not soon forget. It is not wise to wallow in these emotions, but it is also not wise to invalidate the multitude of reactions those around us are experiencing. We should allow ourselves to fully experience them.

For now, I will continue to wonder and reflect as I wait and see how this all will end – and what it will mean for the UMass community.

Shona McMorrow is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

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