This Christmas, my sister gifted me a turquoise hoodie that read in big white block letters: “Quarantine University.” It was funny at first, but I began to realize that this phrase could easily be the tagline for many students this past semester. As I’m sure you have endlessly heard, we are living in unprecedented times. However, the emphasis should not only be on the craziness that is the dreaded C-word, but rather on the notion that as a community, we adapted, found a way to live, and continued life.
We faced extremes, with some facing the difficulties of a packed house and others feeling the effects of loneliness. Back-to-back lectures left permanent dents in our chairs and backs, while international students had to rise for lectures at inhumane hours of the night to attend their classes.
Nevertheless, we willed ourselves to learn. We gratefully sped up or slowed down our recorded lectures (and wished we could do the same for our live classes too). We marvelled at the comfort of attending class from our beds. We learned to log in to see our peers, how to ‘Zoom,’ and picked up the habit of beginning emails with a vague but sincere concern for the receiver’s health and safety.
We discovered the quietest nooks of our homes and the corners where the best Wi-Fi lurks. We figured out the grave importance of turning one’s microphone off. We brought our pets to class, lived, slept, studied, and worked all in the same place. To say the very least, this was not an ordinary university life.
While we did not get to see the leaves change on our campus, we were, most importantly, safe. Our esteemed professors, the people assigning you work, have probably missed you and their regular classes. I know you may not be the fondest of them at the moment, as we are hunted by last semester’s ghosts of procrastination and sleep deprivation, but believe it or not, assigning us work is, in fact, their jobs. Jobs that have taken on unique challenges in an online world.
Professors, you may be getting the short-end of this conversation. In your efforts to maintain academic integrity through open-book or open-web testing, tests—according to many students—have become increasingly more difficult. I have had a few open-book tests myself. While it is comforting to have my notes available, there simply is not enough time to check them during an examination. This scenario seems to be the best win-win situation for staff and students. This compromise does not quite jeopardize the integrity of the urban legends surrounding the gruelling nature of UofT marking, thus ensuring our great institution’s academic reputation as a credible and rank worthy post-secondary destination.
If tests were not enough, I think we can all agree with the obstacles that monotonous day-to-day life imposes. Our ability to even do easy tasks has also become strained. That being said, it is much easier to procrastinate said work when Netflix is a click away and your bed just a few feet from your desk (especially if your bed was your desk).
Diljot Badesha, a second-year Environmental Management student, says that while procrastination was certainly a contender in the many factors of distraction, the lack of atmosphere and the absence of her peers greatly impacted her ability to separate academic and non-academic life. Procrastination and an inability to focus are among the many difficulties that both staff and students faced.
While the physical concerns for our safety are evident, we must also take the time to support each other’s mental well-being as best as we can. Staying home keeps us safe but taking it further and staying connected keeps us sane. As trying as it is to cope with such a task, we must take the challenges of the 2020 fall semester and transform them into lessons for this coming winter semester. In many ways, we have learned how we study, what we value about our education, what motivates us, and what we can look forward to once we can safely return to campus. Most importantly, we learned through our socially distant classes that our community spans beyond buildings and that right now, we are no less empowered to learn together.
Best of wishes for Quarantine University part II, everyone.