DANVERS – On Friday, March 13 at 6:00 p.m., the University of Massachusetts Amherst announced that the rest of the semester would be taught remotely, using resources such as Zoom or Skype in order to continue with lectures. The announcement was sudden, as only a week before, the chancellor sent out an email claiming that the campus would remain open, despite the fact that Amherst College and Smith College had already begun the process of closing due to Covid-19 (the coronavirus).
Originally, we were told that the campus would be closed for two weeks following our spring break in order to prevent an outbreak at UMass. However, four days later it was announced that the campus would be closed for the rest of the spring semester. As a current sophomore at UMass, I still lived in the dorms, so I only packed necessities when I left for spring break as I was under the impression that I would be returning a few weeks later. However, I quickly headed back two days later in order to pack up the rest of my dorm. Walking through the silent campus, cleaning and packing the rest of my dorm, and stopping for lunch in a deserted restaurant in downtown Amherst was eerie, to say the least.
I’ve only taken one online class before during winter break of my freshman year of college. I hated it. I swore to myself to never take an online class again. Now I have no other option, and I’m anxious to begin online learning. I have trouble concentrating due to my ADHD and find it much easier to learn in a setting where I’m able to interact with my classmates and professors in-person.
Additionally, I am no longer able to meet with my therapist or psychiatrist in-person at UMass. The Center for Counseling and Psychological Health remains open, and will be holding appointments over the phone, which I am thankful for, yet saddened because I look forward to my bi-weekly appointments and check-ins. I worry over-the-phone appointments won’t have the same positive impact as in-person appointments do.
At the moment, I am home for spring break. I was looking forward to snowboarding in Vermont this entire week, but many of the ski resorts have shut down for the season due to concerns regarding the outbreak. I haven’t seen many friends because nearly everything is closed, and I’m pretty sure I’ve eaten half of this week’s groceries out of boredom. I never go to the gym, but of course this week I have all the motivation in the world to go and pump some iron.
Despite being bummed out by the lack of things to do, I am incredibly grateful for my health, my family’s health, and my friends remaining in good health. Thankfully, nobody I know personally has contracted the virus, and I believe it’s due to carefully practicing social distancing. I live with my grandmother who is 85, and we’ve both been cautious to not go to places with large crowds. We only leave the house for daily strolls around the neighborhood.
As a young Chinese-American, watching the amount of xenophobia and racism sweeping across the world at the moment continues to sadden me. Seeing small Asian-owned businesses losing service due to ignorance, bigotry, and hate disgusts me. Watching Asians around the world be the subjects of verbal and sometimes physical attacks breaks my heart, and I wonder when the abuse powered by hate and ignorance will end. The current president, Donald Trump, refers to the virus as the “Chinese Virus,” encouraging the xenophobia and racism that we continue to face everyday. Chinese people are suffering enough prejudice and bigotry right now without our ethnicity being directly associated with an illness that has caused widespread hysteria and numerous deaths.
The uncertainty of everything right now is the most confusing part of the virus’ impact. We don’t know when things will return to normal – or if they will ever return to normal. What will happen to the economy? Will we be able to return to school in September? How are we supposed to take final exams? The majority of my classes are discussion based – how do I discuss with people when we’re all sitting at home? What happens if there is no cure for the virus and it hits us harder next time around?
Mae-Lou Zaleski is a sophomore at UMass-Amherst. She writes from Danvers.