I'm a survivor!

by Kariyah Bennett

College Senior, Kariyah Bennett, recounts the effects that the COVID-19 pandemic had on her college experience at Rowan University.

This pandemic took a lot from us, for me, it took away much of my college experience.

It was always the plan to attend college once I graduated high school. Mainly because my parents never had the opportunity to go to college themselves, due to financial constraints. It’s something about being a first-generation college student that lit a fire inside of me, and always pushed me to achieve my fullest potential. I decided to attend Rowan University as a radio, television, and film major, with a minor in Journalism. But, this last year and a half were like no other, as the world as we knew it paused, heavily affecting my personal and academic life.

Attending Rowan University gave me the balance I needed to focus on my academics, while still having fun and enjoying life on a college campus. Towards the end of the fall semester of my junior year, my classmates and I were sitting in sociology class discussing a new virus in China that was making people sick.

At the time, nobody could remember the name of this virus, let alone imagine the devastating impact and destruction it would bring. Four months later, we received an email from the school telling us that we have an extra week of spring break, and then we would be moving to a new remote-learning schedule. I had to move back home and begin quarantining, which devastated me, to say the least. I tried to make the most of it, but I remember sitting at home trying to focus on schoolwork in a world that erupted into chaos around me. Saying that I felt like I was in an apocalyptic movie would be an understatement. At first, I didn’t mind being at home. The idea that I didn’t have to wake up at 7 a.m. to get ready for classes was a dream for me. All I had to do was wake up 30 minutes before class and turn on my computer. I loved it! I also received a refund check for the remaining days I had left on my on-campus apartment, so that was definitely a plus.

I thought we would only be in quarantine for a month, maybe two, but then it turned out that we would remain remote for the rest of the school year. Eventually, I began to miss hanging out with my friends and having my own independence away from home. My friends and I had FaceTime, which helped combat the loneliness I was feeling. However, I still felt hopeless and depressed, and I just wanted the pandemic to be over and for everything to get back to normal. I felt like I was stuck in a cage and the keys were nowhere in sight.

What crushed me the most was the fact that I wasn't able to achieve my dream of studying in Los Angeles for the summer. I had plans to fly out to L.A. for two months to take classes for my major and to experience the city. It was all I talked about those few months before COVID affected the world.

Anger and despair were coursing through my veins, eventually causing me to finally crack. Screaming and crying with tears of frustration and hopelessness, I considered ending it all right then and there. My mother didn't recognize me. Eventually, she sent me to my father’s house for a few days just so I could be in a different environment to clear my head. That was when I decided that I didn’t like who I was becoming.

When we received the notice that we were finally able to go back to school, I was smiling ear-to-ear as I packed up my things to head back to college. I was so excited to be one of the few people who got to return to campus and have semi in-person classes. As a radio, television, and film major, we were required to take production classes to complete our degree, and some of those classes required us to be in a television studio to complete lab assignments. Most students; however, had lecture-and group work-based classes that could be taken online. So, many students stayed home for that school year. During that time, the school gave students a 10% discount per semester, which really helped with getting the equipment I needed to make hybrid learning more feasible.

Once back on campus, things were obviously a lot different. We were required to get tested for COVID bi-weekly, and we weren’t allowed to have guests over unless they lived in the same area.

Having to get tested so often was always a scary thought for me, because what if I tested positive for covid and I was asymptomatic? The anxiety that it induced on me was something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

The spring semester was definitely the toughest for me mentally. While I had amazing grades, something about sitting at my desk looking towards a wall at a computer caused me to have another mental breakdown. I was so overwhelmed with my schoolwork that I had to talk to my professors about my mental health. I’m so thankful that they worked with me and were understanding when it came to delays in turning in my work, or I would’ve failed my classes.

Now that I’m back in school for another year, things have improved so much. Being back inside of a full classroom and being able to socialize with other students brought back a sense of the true college experience.

This school year, my university incorporated way more events and activities, as well as some trips for the students. For example, this year we were able to have a homecoming, last year, it was canceled. It meant a lot to me that they decided to have homecoming this year since I’m now a senior and don’t have much more time to make college memories.

I think it was crucial for the university to give students a sense of normalcy this year, and the introduction of the vaccine made it possible. The university required students, returning to campus for this 2021 fall semester, to be vaccinated. The only way you were allowed to opt-out was if you were exempt, and in that case, you had to regularly get tested. This seemed to be the standard practice at almost all colleges and universities that wanted to get students back on campus this semester. Second-year Rutgers University student, Teyanna Burke, confirmed that her college also put a vaccine mandate into effect for all students returning to campus. The sophomore Resident Assistant also confirmed that absolutely no guests were allowed in dorm rooms and that unfortunately she often had to turn people away.

The on-campus vaccine regulation definitely had some pushback, as people all over the country had different opinions on the shot. Many students weren’t able to attend class the first week of the fall semester because they neglected to turn in their vaccination cards or note their exemptions in a timely manner. Although this regulation was annoying, to say the least, we did receive up to $1000 in credit toward our tuition and housing expenses.

It’s been a difficult time. We’ve endured many changes in life overall since the start of the pandemic. But, I was determined to finish what I started. What I've learned about myself and my generation is that we are fighters, and no matter what is thrown at us, we will overcome it to achieve our dreams

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