COVID-19 and the Other Pandemic On Campus

Way back in the dark days of last April, I came across the article “Why Am I Suddenly Crying About the Smallest Things?” by Vogue writer Emma Specter. The personal piece, which discussed the need to cry, vent and “talk through” the small (and big) disappointments and hardships of the pandemic spoke to me, reassuring me that my frequent outbursts over the weather or my parents’ non-stop presence were normal. I think about Specter’s article a lot as I grapple with pandemic-style college life. It reassured me that a good old cry is healthy and comforting even if it’s over something stupid or trivial.

I count myself very fortunate concerning my mental health. Like many teenagers and young adults, I’ve experienced mild anxiety that I can easily manage through exercise, time management, melatonin, etc. However, like so many others, the pandemic has changed that, heightening my anxiety to the point where I could have multiple breakdowns a week, inhibiting my ability to complete the smallest of tasks. Although I am super lucky not to have had the virus strongly affect me personally, the second “pandemic”, a mental health pandemic brought on by loss, isolation and uncertainty, has. We are 18 to 22 year-olds in the midst of some of the most pivotal moments of our lives, trying to figure out ourselves, our present and our future, while a deadly pandemic hinders what would otherwise be normal college lives. Colgate has always been a stressful and competitive place where nothing comes easily. This year, we are not only stressed about classes, social lives and career searches, we are also now worried about getting sick, being put into isolation, infecting friends and forever being on-guard about following the school’s stringent rules with the looming threat of getting sent home. It is a lot to handle, yet the mental toll on us this year seems largely ignored by the faculty and administration. 

While I applaud the administration’s efforts to control the spread of COVID-19 while allowing us back on campus, I think we’d all appreciate it if the faculty cut us a bit of slack and acknowledged just how difficult this year has been for students. In-person and remote, I only had one professor last semester ever admit how difficult this time has been for him when he abruptly stopped class to have an honest conversation about how all of us were feeling. I left that day feeling renewed as if someone finally understood us. I realize that many professors feel the same way, but why did it feel like we had an abnormally high amount of highschool-esque busy work? The semester seemed top-heavy, where the workload in every class would go from 0-60 in three weeks, which was even more difficult to deal with given the lack of a break. Professors could just do students the small favor of checking in here and there and giving us some slack because who is honestly turning in their best work right now? Again, I appreciate all that the faculty has done and sacrificed this year, but I think they need to realize that this is hard on everybody, even if most of us are back on campus.

This goes for the administration too. Laura Jack’s daily emails offer the comforting reassurance that (usually) most is well around campus, along with constant reminders about the school’s strict coronavirus related rules, which she attempts to soften with comic Tom Hanks diagrams and “stay a cow apart” sayings. I welcome communication and optimism, yet sometimes I wish that she and the administration as a whole could admit that just because we are back and a lucky few have one or two in-person classes, not everything is sunshine and rainbows. The positivity especially irked me towards the end of last semester when the task force loosened restrictions. The emails consistently praised us, celebrating our achievement at containing the virus and staying on campus. Yet, there was still the fear that we’d get caught walking down the street having accidentally forgotten a mask or the strange calculations and stress surrounding the limits on how many people can be at an indoor gathering, the irony of which being of-age could go to a bar or a restaurant downtown and be in a large room with maskless people from all over. That is not to mention how burnt out everyone became from the lack of both physical breaks and mental distractions. I would read these emails and lose it over the overtly optimistic tone when I felt miserable inside.

This semester, let’s learn and grow together as we face what hopefully is the tail-end of the pandemic, acknowledge our pain and our feelings. Thinking back to Specter’s piece, we need to let ourselves cry over the big and the small. We need to acknowledge the stress and the pain we feel and support each other, offer compassion, and promote resources for students to seek help in order for students, staff and faculty as a community to combat both pandemics and emerge stronger together.