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College 2020: Living the COVID-a-Loca!

Becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Tim Mossholder/Unsplash
Source: Tim Mossholder/Unsplash

This time last year, college campuses across the country were swarming with first-year students donning new clothes and backpacks, ready to take on this new and exciting stage of life. It all began with orientation, awkward ice-breakers, and barbeques. RAs had decorated their doors and bulletin boards with colorful and welcoming displays, announcing all the fun and activities to come... Welcome to college!

For the class of 2024, things have started off a bit differently. Instead of scavenger hunts and three-legged races on campus, first-years have met their new classmates via little squares on a screen, much like the beginning of a Brady Bunch episode. For those first-years who were actually dropped off on campus, parents were met with, “Nice to meet you. Now please go home.” No lingering.

Most students have had to quarantine for 14 days, trapped on campus like new recruits on an army base during boot camp. If you are caught leaving campus during quarantine to grab a slice of pizza, there will be an immediate court-martial. You will be sent home to live with your parents. Oh, and gatherings of more than four in a room are not permitted. No external guests. Only those in your own dorm. And, keep your mask on in the Common Room.

Photo by Cottonbro/Pexels
Source: Photo by Cottonbro/Pexels

As first-years head to the Caf for their first collegiate dining experience, they are met by a sea of plexiglass-partitioned tables and plastic ware. No more buffets. Limited food options. Pre-made salads with over-ripe tomatoes. Stay seated in your cubby and make sure to bring some Windex for optimal visibility. College is all about choices and freedom. This will be the best time of your life.

There have been virtual club fairs, not exactly the same exciting experience that Rudy had when recruited for the football boosters at Notre Dame. Now it’s a situation of choosing the screen activity that’s the best fit for you. It’s important to get involved. That’s what college is all about.

Then, the first day of classes arrives and the big decision is which mask to wear with that new outfit. It’s important to accessorize. Best to go with earth tones during fall. Black goes with everything. No need to worry about lipstick. If you forgot to brush your teeth on the way out the door, no worries.

Classroom desks are now set six feet apart with yellow X’s taped on the floor beneath the seats. Even the professor has an X, as well as a taped box to stay in while teaching. Lots of rules and lots to keep track of. Are we having fun yet? Oh, and one more thing. Make sure to make it each Thursday for your mandatory COVID test, and during your allotted window. It’s alphabetical.

Photo by Cottonbro/Pexels
Source: Photo by Cottonbro/Pexels

In many ways, this has felt like Twilight Zone University, so surreal for college students as well as for the well-intentioned faculty and staff doing everything they can to give students the best experience possible.

So much energy has gone into trying to make things as “normal” as possible, whatever that is. Lots of changes. Sometimes I feel like I am hearing the ghost of Carl Jung in my ear saying, “That which we resist, will persist.”

Though we obviously need to take the necessary precautions, I am not convinced that spinning our wheels wildly is the answer. Perhaps what we really need is acceptance. This weirdness isn’t going away for a while. And, anyone who thinks things will go back to how they used to be may want to give themselves a good pinch and wake up. Not happening.

Photo by Elly Fairytale/Pexels
Source: Photo by Elly Fairytale/Pexels

It seems that a better plan, though perhaps a bit Utopian, may be to aim for individual and societal mindfulness... where we each do our best to live in this moment exactly as it is, without wishing it were different. Learning to become comfortable with the uncomfortable is a valuable skill to have, one that will make this ride much smoother and far more meaningful... Add to this a healthy dose of gratitude for all that is going well in our lives, and I truly believe we’ll be on our way out of this fear-based cyclone and into a more positive place.