One Year of COVID, One York: The College Community Shares Their Pandemic Experiences Over the Past Year

Photo Credit | Flickr via Sergio Santos

By Pandora’s Box Staff 

On March 11, many of us from the York community looked towards our phones or the screens of our laptops to which we are using for remote work, to realize that the date coincided with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic one year ago, which upended many of our lives.

Pandora’s Box spoke to members from all walks of the college community, ranging from students to staff to the college president, about their sentiment of living through a year of COVID-19. 

In an interview with Pandora’s Box, York College President Berenecea J. Eanes spoke on the troubles COVID has brought to the college community and gave words of encouragement for everyone to push through, beyond the one-year mark of the pandemic.

“Many of us have had so many losses, including family, loss of income, loss of day-to-day routine,” said Eanes in a Zoom interview. “I know that you all miss being on campus, and we miss seeing you.” 

“I think we never imagined what happened, to happen,” said Eanes. “Now, it is time to embrace whatever the reality was of COVID for you, and move through the grieving process as you need to, and get ready to go.” 

One Year of COVID: For Students

Being a college student within this pandemic has proven to be a difficult task for many at York, as some students have expressed their pandemic fatigue that has grown perpetuated by the online learning format. The lack of scenery changes and the constant routine opening computers for class has become exhausting.  

“As a student throughout this pandemic I was overloaded with assignments that professors gave us,” said York freshman Madoussou Kone, whose major is undeclared. “I managed to keep my stress levels under control but I had trouble being able to create a boundary between school and myself.” 

With the fatigue came a loss of motivation for anything school-related, followed by a toll on some students’ mental health, which has been a major topic of discussion throughout the pandemic. 

“Covid came during my freshman year, and since then I’ve lost motivation to do online schooling,” said York sophomore, Hemwatie Rupa, a Psychology major. “The routine of waking up in bed & staying there just makes me feel like going back to sleep. I just can’t do it anymore.” 

The online format has taken its toll on the mental health of York students, with many feeling like  classrooms and bedrooms have become one in the same. When the pandemic hit, students were suddenly thrown in the position of balancing their academics, home, and personal lives all at the same time, forcing students to make tough choices that weighed them down emotionally.

Like many students, Health Science major Rochanda Rocke tussled with her emotions and mental health over the past year. 

“Since I was not able to do my internships physically it led me to believe that I should just lay back and not do much work.” said the York senior. I had problems balancing school life, personal life and home life. There were times when I would try to write an essay but I would have to look after certain personal family things as well. I learned to cope with these issues by doing my work in another room in the house and I learned the art of taking deep breaths to help with my anxiety.”

Some students also have double duty–as parents– not only balancing their own education but also the education of their children.

“I have kids so I’ve had to be the lunch lady, gym teacher and reading, writing and math teacher and take my classes,” said York junior, Anyelina Almonte, a Social Work major. “At times my kids and I were on Zoom all at once. I have definitely grown and I feel as though obstacles were thrown at me that I never thought I would be able to overcome.”

One Year of COVID: For Essential Staff

Although many from the York community are no longer seeing the work that essential staff performs such as Custodial Services, Buildings & Grounds and Public Safety, essential staff are still performing their duties on campus, and still aren’t used to the bare environment left behind last year. For Public Safety Peace Officer Khalid Clarke, the pandemic has made him better appreciate the job as an officer; an essential staffer. 

“Even that sense of students and staff, you still have a need, and you still have a purpose,” said Clarke. 

In the past year, officers have had to come up with new tactics and strategies to keep themselves engaged with the campus, even with the lack of density there during distance learning and working. 

“We developed a lot of small training modules such as field observations to get officers to handle certain situations.” 

Along with the change of environment last March came the change in operations, where temperature checks and social distancing became a regular routine for everyone visiting and working on campus. Clarke says that while it was a challenge to get accustomed to, it is quite normal to operate with a year later and has not altered the job much. 

“I don’t think it changed how we do our job but it was just an additional thing to add to what we already do and it is meant to keep us and the community safe,” said Clarke. “It’s added safety.”

Although some challenges presented by the pandemic have become less formidable over the past year, new ones have arisen recently with the arrival of the vaccination site at York’s Health and Physical Education Complex on Liberty Ave. 

“The workload has definitely picked up for us because of the vaccination site going on so that would take away our manpower,” said Public Safety Officer Danny Yu. 

For Yu, the issue of having enough officers to take care of visitors’ needs while also providing their services at the HPEC vaccination site is something he wishes those from the college community would better understand. 

“Sometimes they want us to open doors, or do certain things and be there right away, but being that we are short on manpower and now we have a vaccination site going on too, they have to be more patient with us,” said Yu. “Unless of course it’s an emergency we’ll respond right away, but there’s a lot of things we get called for that are not emergencies and can wait for, so I just hope they can understand there’s a lot of things we have to deal with.”

Yu notes that when staff members fall ill, they have to quarantine for 14 days and there have been a few people who have left for other opportunities. 

“I think it’s a normal thing though, even if there’s not a pandemic, people will still come and go.”

Currently, only essential staff are allowed on campus and students who may need to pick up tech equipment for remote learning or those who may wish to stop by the food pantry. When people do stop by the campus for visits such as these, Clarke says that it feels almost unusual because of the new normal that has forced people to be away from campus. 

“You’re so not used to having people around anymore that it’s kind of a shock,” said Clarke. “I think that can kind of take a mental toll on you because you are so used to dealing with people in a certain way and now that has changed.” 

Clarke says that with the contractors conducting renovations and other essential staff on campus, some of the interactions lost with students were fulfilled. 

“With the people that we do have on campus, we have a lot of our contractors doing work on campus, essential staff; they kind of took the place of the students so to speak, so we still had interpersonal communication with people,” said Clarke. “That was one of the biggest things, our job is so service oriented that not being able to provide service or being needed to provide service that much was a major change.”

For Clarke, although there may be a feeling of longing for social interaction, the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine has boosted a sense or morale for him. 

“I think that helped a lot with giving people hope and it kind of  brightened everybody up,” said Clarke. “Now you have hope, and people are getting vaccinated and we’ll return to normalcy soon.” 

Clarke wants the rest of the college community that they are missed on campus. 

“We got invited to a virtual event with SGA and that was the first thing we had to get out there,” said Clarke. “I’ve actually seen dust bunnies on campus; it echoes when you talk. It’s very empty here, and students, staff and faculty need to understand how important their presence is on campus and we definitely do miss them and those interactions. 

One Year of COVID: For Professors

Just like many York students, the demand for consistency, engagement, and productivity has become a burden on York professors who still have not adapted to a year of the virtual setting.

For some professors, the sudden shift from in-person instruction to distance learning was a new level of difficulty that they were asked to surmount while remaining an active professor in the academic world and adapting to life in general as a inhabitant of New York City. 

“The main challenge has been simply surviving – mentally, physically, emotionally – the extraordinary experience of living in New York City, which has been hit hard during this pandemic, especially in Spring of 2020,” said English professor, Kelly Baker Josephs.“I had to, like many teachers globally, shift my teaching to a wholly online format mid-way through the Spring 2020 semester.” 

Although the shift to virtual learning was easier for Josephs to accomplish in Spring 2020, the atmosphere of an online course did not always acclimate her in her teaching methods. 

“It was still a challenge to envision a literature course in a virtual format,” said Josephs. “My writing courses were somewhat less challenging than my literature courses, but still required redesign for an asynchronous format.”

Many challenges awaited Jospehs for the months during the pandemic while teaching during a not-so normal semester. 

By the time 2021 had hit, Jospehs became more acutely aware of the “extremely difficult” situation that was now revealed to her, and found ways to adapt. 

“For Spring 2021, I decided to teach my literature class asynchronously because the synchronous Zoom meetings in my Fall 2020 literature course were difficult to manage”, said Josephs, referring to her ENG 356 class, Caribbean Autobiographical Literature in the Fall. “During the summer of 2020 I had some time to prepare for our fully online format in the Fall, but it was still a challenge to envision a literature course in a virtual format.” 

From reflecting over the past year of COVID and the personal experience gathered as an active professor, Josephs says that many of the challenges that arose due to the pandemic included “loss of student connection, low class morale and motivation” and “miscommunications” amidst unlikely circumstances of online virtual classroom settings.

In terms of looking ahead, Josephs one main take away from a year of unprecedented events boils down to the idea that “survival requires community and creativity.”  

Jospehs continues to teach English courses in Spring 2021 such as ENG 396–Global Women Writers, in a virtual setting to appease the pandemic safety recommendations of social distancing.

One Year of COVID: For Office Workers

If you have ever been on campus pre-pandemic, there is no doubt that you would have had to step into one of the college’s offices to be offered a particular service. 

Offices like the Bursar, Registrar, Student Activities, and even the library were always bustling with students that required some form of attention from its staff. Many workers were accustomed to the fast-paced work day that came with being on campus, but that all changed once all office work transitioned to a remote format that all college community members have become all too familiar within this past year. 

Yvette Williamson, Higher Education Officer at the Office of the Bursar, mentioned in an email interview, that the transition online was quite challenging for Bursar workers. 

“Because of the pandemic, the office had to move to working remotely on short notice and the staff had to quickly adapt,” said Williamson. “Communicating online is more difficult than answering inquiries in person.”

For Sheila Beverly-Skinner, the Assistant to the Highest Executive Officer of Student Activities, agrees with Williamson that the change was challenging but for Skinner, her challenge was different. Skinner’s difficulty with the transition relied more with mental health and other issues that students and families would face amidst the unexpected change. To counter this, Skinner adjusted her patient levels to better deal with students at this time.

“I’m finding myself more patient and making more [conscious] decisions to slow down,” said Skinner. “Things in the past that may have bothered me are just no longer important and don’t receive my energy.”

Both Williamson and Skinner were accustomed to having lots of students flood their offices for varying reasons- these reasons did not change once the transition to a remote environment. Obviously, needs could not be met as quickly as when there was life on campus, but students expected things to remain the same and took to the Cardinal App to speak of their displeasure with the lack of service.

Skinner reported no complaints about the Student Activities department, but Williamson noticed the dissatisfaction in the Bursar’s office but wishes students would understand that the same quality of service cannot be administered online. According to Williamson, more than 350 emails are received per day and there are only six staff members to tend to these emails- this would mean each staff member would have to cater to at least 58 emails a day. 

“We tried our best to respond as quickly as possible but unfortunately at times the number of emails was too voluminous and made it difficult to keep pace,” said Williamson. 

Both representatives of these departments stated that, once cleared, their staff are looking forward to being back on campus as they miss the student interaction. In the meantime, Skinner and Williamson are hoping that students, and staff, would stay positive during this time and wishes all Cardinals a successful semester. 

Meredith Powers, the Head of Electronics Resources at the Library, said that the library has developed new routines and ways of communicating and continuing to help York scholars.

Meredith added that a huge part of being a librarian is the constant casual interaction with students, faculty, and staff. 

“I am a true extrovert and I love this aspect of librarianship,” said Powers. “I think other York people may not be aware that we still do all of that remotely, I admit the online services are not quite the same, but I really appreciate everyone who visits the library chat or sends us an email.”

Like many from the York community, the past year in a pandemic Meredith’s journey with Covid has been difficult and filled with emotions. She misses her friends and family and simple things such as running into acquaintances. However, biking and outdoor activities have kept her grounded and tends to look at some of the positive outcomes that the pandemic has created. 

“I feel extremely lucky and guilty at the same time for being able to work remotely,” said Powers. “I’m grateful that I still have my job, which gives me income and daily purpose and that I get to avoid risky situations but I’m constantly aware of all the risks that other people have to take on. It is sometimes overwhelming.” 

Paul Park, the Enrollment Registrar Coordinator also said that one of the biggest challenges from the past year was the abrupt adjustment to remote learning and working.

“There was a lot of logistical, technical, and psychological work that went into making it possible to keep things going on such short notice,” said Park. “The college workforce is a dedicated group of people often with years of experience and degrees. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t believe in the work and you.” 

Park feels that this pandemic has required many of us to combine work, school, family, friends, and self care into a clutter. 

“It took time for me to untangle them all while giving each the proper attention,” said Park. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *