‘Ctrl Z’… If only we could  

How has COVID-19 affected your life?

Collegian+File+Photo+%2F+September+of+2016

Collegian File Photo / September of 2016

By Jillian Bamdas, Collegian Contributor

Flowers blossoming, sun shining upon the campus pond, celebrating “Blarney”at the University of Massachusetts with friends who feel like family; the spring season was as exciting as the semester before, until it came to an abrupt halt due to COVID-19.

Originally, students left campus expecting that they wouldn’t be back on campus until at least the first week of April. Saying goodbye to friends for spring break was simple, but not knowing how long it will be until you see them again was a whole new ballgame.

COVID-19 brought the world to a halt. States were shut down, curfews were put into order and everything was moved remote. Every individual’s life has been altered in some way due to the effects of COVID- 19. UMass is home to many transfer, out-of-state, international and in-state students. Transitioning to remote learning not only affects students, but teachers and faculty as well. UMass faculty began to hold lectures on Zoom, uploaded PowerPoints and resources on Moodle and did their best to grant every student unlimited guidance and support. Students became acclimated to the remote learning environment, but still held onto the hope that it would be temporary.

My experience is just one story out of the thousands of lives that were affected. My story begins with the fact that I’m an out-of-state student. Growing up in Florida, I didn’t get to experience a change of seasons, which is one of the many reasons why I love UMass. Had I known that I wouldn’t be back on campus for this long, I would have paused to appreciate the time I had with my friends and take in the beauty of a campus that began to feel like home. A few hours after I landed home in Florida for spring break, the email from UMass came. Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy wrote in an email, “to heightened concerns about the spread of coronavirus, UMass Amherst, along with the other four campuses in the UMass system, will suspend in-person instruction and will transition to remote course delivery.” When will I see my friends again since they all live in Massachusetts? When and how will I get all of my belongings out of my dorm? Will we be back in the fall? Similar social and logistical questions impacted all UMass students. From the moment I saw the email, I knew things could only go downhill from there.

In the midst of taking remote classes, students still had to return to campus to retrieve their belongings. For the students who live outside of Massachusetts, the process of getting their belongings became a huge dilemma due to travel bans and quarantine orders. Many students had to rely on moving companies to enter their living space and pack up and ship the rest of their belongings. Sitting in my living room, I logged on to Zoom to watch two men pack up all of my stuff. Watching the room being emptied on camera took a toll on me emotionally.

After a long and isolated summer, students were eager to get back to school. Getting room assignments and move-in information excited everyone as it was one step closer to us all being together. In order to live on campus, the University required students from certain states to quarantine for 14 days prior to move-in. Knowing this information, families made travel arrangements to bring their children back to school after the designated quarantine time.

My car was packed up with all of my belongings and it was time for a road trip to Massachusetts. After three days of driving, staying in hotels and listening to a seven hour playlist on repeat, all I could think about was how thrilled I was to see my friends in two weeks. I was finally in Massachusetts.

Up in the mountains where I was staying, there was terrible cell service. One moment I would receive texts and another moment, my phone was searching for a signal. Twenty minutes after getting into Massachusetts, my phone started to flood with messages from my friends. “Did you see the email?… How does this affect you? Did you just drive three days, only to turn back and go home?”  With the one bar of service my phone had, I opened the email that read, “regrettably, we are reversing our previously announced offer to provide on-campus housing for students whose coursework is entirely remote.”

Having received my dorm move-in time slot by email only 24 hours before, I stared at Chancellor Subbaswamy’s email in disbelief. My heart came to a sudden stop.

The road trip home was filled with silence due to shock, tears due to disappointment and frustration due to the question of when our lives would go back to normalcy. The sudden news of UMass students not returning back to campus was a surprise to everyone.

Shared experiences of gathering in the Mullins Center for the thrill of a campus hockey game or going to dining halls for the best campus food are some examples of things that make up the UMass community. Although this year is not what anyone has expected, students and faculty are doing their best to feel connected through a virtual experience. The ‘new normal’ is unpredictable and full of new challenges. As much as we may wish to press ‘Ctrl Z’ on the past few months of the pandemic, it is important to take a moment and reflect on what has been learned.

Everyone has their own experiences during this surreal time, but the lessons learned through separation have made the UMass family stronger and will be the reason that our community continues to grow. I hope to return to campus in the spring, where we can all share our stories in person.

Jillian Bamdas can be reached at [email protected].