The University of Washington was the first to shutter its doors to students amid the COVID-19 pandemic, creating a precedent that would lead to the shuttering of Harvard, Yale, and other universities and colleges throughout the United States.
Most of these institutions have issued a directive that face-to-face courses be moved online. As COVID-19 spreads, more universities and colleges are following suit and making faculty create online versions of their courses. While this presents many issues of accessibility (especially for students who fall within the technology divide), the push to do “business as usual” in the midst of a global disaster is inhumane.
Are we allowed to breathe for even a minute? The world that we have known is gone. A virus has shut down whole countries, impacted trade, sent hordes of people to the store in a panicked frenzy to prepare for quarantine, and this virus is killing our beloved grandparents and immunocompromised friends.
Can we get some time to transition to the new “normal” of our world?
Can we seek compassion in the midst of tragedy and not just expect everyone to keep calm and carry on?
Are we allowed to just breathe?
Are we allowed to even be human right now?
Or must we robotically follow programming without stopping?
In my own experience, the past two weeks have been stressful, anticipating the announcement in my own state for cases of the virus. That announcement finally came this week and the university subsequently moved to an “extended spring break” while the community college launched its decision to move as many courses as possible to online teaching and to avoid interruptions to students’ education.
But the call to push things online in a hurry adds more labor in a time when we should be practicing more self-care. Maybe we (and our students) need an interruption at this time. Maybe we need to process what is going on.
We are exhausted and vulnerable.
My conversations about pedagogy in various academic Facebook groups and via text with colleagues this week have turned towards equitability, accessibility, and compassion for students who are just as scared as we are. They have an added burden of becoming familiar with learning platforms in addition to the coursework that they have to finish, not to mention the burden of finding the technology and internet access to do so–especially since many students at my university come from rural parts of New Mexico, like the reservations. And, if that wasn’t enough, my university requires students to complete 15 credits each semester to be eligible for a vital state scholarship–which is more than most first-generation students can handle.
It is difficult enough to be afraid for your own health and the health of your loved ones. Then there is fear surrounding food insecurity, lockdowns, quarantines, etc. It is hard enough to get through a semester of college with good grades or to teach a new course without worrying about whether or not you will be confined to your home on a moment’s notice. It is difficult enough to go shopping for your week when you have student feedback to give or department meetings to attend, let alone run into 5 different stores to find necessity items like toilet paper or baby formula.
It is difficult enough to live paycheck to paycheck, as many of our instructors and students do, but now you have to take an hour or more of your life to make a plan to ration your food out so you can limit grocery trips to avoid the virus, or because the store shelves are empty. It is difficult enough to cook a meal, let alone a meal out of shelf-stable ingredients that you don’t use often.
All the while, the statistics of infections keep climbing. The stock market is struggling and a recession is looming. Students are losing their jobs and contingent faculty know that cuts to scheduling are coming.
Isn’t that enough stress to have to process the end of the world as we have known it?
Are we allowed to breathe for even a minute?