RAY WALKER, Media/Broadcast Producer—“Unprecedented.” I’m sure you’ve either heard or read this word sometime in the past year or so.
Quite frankly, I’m tired of absorbing that word, but it seems to be at the core of the moment that we’re living in. I went around and asked students to describe this semester in one word. In collecting a variety of reactions, I heard things like isolating, exhausting, and distracting. Students also told me this semester has been draining, disheartening, and surprisingly, I even heard the word—worthwhile.
Now stop. Breathe. Take a moment to think about how you would encapsulate the craziness of this semester. Unparalleled? Unpredictable? What about uncommon?
Sure, we can complain about having to wear masks. Simultaneously, we could even groan about the confusion around when we can pull down our masks for a whiff of fresh air. This has been a semester brimming with the realities of social distancing, eating in dining halls with plexiglass shielding us from conversations with our friends, and even not being able to party where we can be every ounce of a “college student” without the fear of getting busted or getting sent home. I get it. This semester has been filled with an immense amount of uncertainty.
Some students left campus early and even mid-semester simply because anxiety levels began to rise as we discovered our first positive cases of COVID-19 on campus. A wave of students faced the consequence of packing their belongings and returning home because they failed to adhere to the Community Care Agreement to ensure the safety of all Denisonians. None of this is anyone’s fault. The coronavirus caught us all by surprise. But, it was and is our responsibility to combat this virus by taking every safety measure laid out before us.
Also, the freedom of not being able to get off the hill and venture out into Columbus oftentimes felt claustrophobic. No Easton? Short North? No therapeutic trips off campus with my friends for some food other than Huffman, Curtis, or the repetitive Slayter burgers and fries? I was going crazy. But look here, I’m still alive.
And trust me, it sucked not being able to visit my friends in their rooms for the first couple of weeks. Like what? I just got back to campus from a five month hiatus and you’re telling me I can’t go to my friend’s room? Pain. Then once we did mass testing and discovered there were little to no cases on campus, we were finally allowed to visit the rooms of others. Lo and behold, a few weeks later five positive cases crept into our community and we were once again prohibited from gathering in other student’s rooms. Eventually, about a week later we got things under control and were fortunate enough to have guests in our rooms again. What a whirlwind that was. But, we made it through.
Remember when Community Advisors were burdened with the load of trying to be both a community builder and a law enforcer? Oh, and then when campus safety failed to equally distribute penalties for students who violated COVID policy? Yeah, I remember that.
Coming back this semester also meant addressing the racial inequalities on our own campus. It meant launching an Antiracism Task Force to tackle systems that were designed to oppress students of color. Coming back meant having those tough and cultural conversations about upholding antiracism, talking about cultural appropriation and even acknowledging the white privilege that students on this campus have. This semester forced students, faculty, and staff of all backgrounds to reckon with the racial unrest that took place around the country this summer. It’s been a wakeup call, but we’re all still here to tell our stories.
On top of the stress being a microcosm of COVID and racial injustice, students were tasked with juggling courses that rotated between Zoom, Google Meet, in-person and even a hybrid format. Trying to maintain focus while battling Zoom fatigue was never something I thought we as college students would have to face. Trying to get out of bed to walk to class when it feels as though the world around you is crumbling to the ground was never something I saw as a reality during my college years. And on top of that, many professors thought it would be a good idea to increase the workload this semester. For what? Did they feel like because we were taking some classes on Zoom that meant there wasn’t enough work for us to do? Did they think Zoom meant an unproductive student? In reality, they enhanced the stress of an already taxing semester. Regardless, we made it through.
Another thing, this election season didn’t make this COVID semester any better. I can’t speak for everyone but if I were to describe this election season in one word it would certainly be— “anxiety.” There was an uproar of political polarization across the nation and no one could feel quite at ease with either candidate on the presidential ticket. But a huge shoutout goes out to DU Votes for paving the way for Denison students to have access to every resource possible to ensure our community was registered, educated, and ready to vote. Having to balance election anxiety with classes was not ideal nor healthy but we made it through and that’s what’s important.
And that’s my point in writing this. We made it through. Yeah, this semester wasn’t ideal but we logged onto those Zoom classes, we rolled out of bed and threw on our masks and we made the best of this exhausting semester. We didn’t have to come back this fall. Denison could’ve thrown in the towel and threw us on Zoom like many other institutions. This semester was draining but it was also worthwhile. It was certainly the break I needed from my family. It was uncomfortable, but it was the type of discomfort I think we all needed. This semester has been one unlike any other: This has been a semester to remember.
Ray Walker ‘22 is a Communication major, Anthropology/Sociology minor, with a Narrative Journalism Concentration from Columbus, OH.