Back to School, COVID-19 Edition: My Experience as a College Student During the Pandemic

Back to School, COVID-19 Edition: My Experience as a College Student During the Pandemic

Chris Oshana is a sophomore at the University of Michigan studying Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience. He hopes to inspire other youth to advocate for themselves in all aspects of their lives.

The following reflects Chris’ lived experiences, thoughts, and opinions on the coronavirus.

As a college freshman, moving back home to live with my family after feeling like an independent adult for almost six months was devastating. However, I understood how little was known about COVID-19 at the time, and that it would be the best idea for me to return home and stay safe. From early March on, I hoped and prayed that the University of Michigan would bring us back for fall classes—safely, of course. Over the summer, we constantly received emails from our University President, Dr. Mark Schlissel, about how they were putting in hours upon hours of planning and creating protocol in an attempt to bring us back to campus. The amount of times I heard the statement “public-health informed fall semester” was mind-numbing. When the official decision came during the summer that we would return to campus, I couldn’t have been happier. I had full faith that the university administration cared about our health and safety and would only make this decision if they knew they could keep us safe by putting the proper regulations in place.

I was sadly mistaken.

All students moving into university housing were required to send in a self-administered COVID-19 test before move in. This was a great first step to increase testing, but I soon found out that it was the only step the university was taking in regard to testing all their on-campus students. We were told there would be no mandatory random testing, a very alarming idea considering there are hundreds of students living in each dorm hall. Additionally, knowing that when in class, students living in private apartments and houses in Ann Arbor (with virtually no regulations that the university could enforce) would be coming into contact with students living on-campus was a frightening fact. It only takes one case from an off-campus party to spread to an entire dorm hall and infect hundreds of students. Furthermore, before coming to campus, we were told we all had to download an app called ResponsiBLUE, where we would be required to track our health daily before leaving our dorm rooms and report any symptoms. ResponsiBLUE wasn’t even put on the App Store until three weeks into the school year, when we had already been on campus for a month. My peers and I were shocked at the lack of preparation, to say the least.

We were not the only ones who were alarmed by the lack of preparation. After our first week of classes, the University of Michigan Graduate Employees Organization (GEO), our graduate student union, went on strike1 to fight for a safer campus, through tackling both the pandemic of COVID-19 and the pandemic of racial injustice. The majority of Graduate Student Instructors (GSIs) went on strike. Classes were cancelled and picket lines were set up all across campus in order to cause a disruption that would finally make the university administration put more regulations in place. Various departments from the university released statements of support for the GEO strike and urged President Schlissel to comply with the demands. However, instead of actually listening to the demands of GEO, he decided to take them to court. He threatened to sue the union2, which would essentially bankrupt them if the GSIs did not accept the offer proposed and go back to work immediately. GEO had no choice but to comply.

Around the same time came the housing strike. A substantial amount of residence advisors (upperclassmen working for the university by living alongside freshmen) went on strike to stand in solidarity with GEO and to get more precautions within the dorm halls. Additionally, they were striking to get the students in quarantine and isolation housing the basic necessities needed3, which was another way that the university failed miserably. After extending their strike past the GEO strike, the housing staff finally reached a deal they were satisfied with4.

This win, while it may seem small, was extremely meaningful to the students and faculty at the university who were disgusted at the lack of preparation, myself included. This win, which was organized by college students in their late teens and early twenties, showed the importance of youth voice. This message is directed to my fellow young folks: we are the future of society, and we must be acknowledged as such. Only when we fully raise our voices will adults actually begin to listen. This lesson is fundamental to every youth movement. We must create, as the late congressmen and civil rights titan John Lewis said, “good trouble”. If you, as a young person, feel unsafe or unheard in any way, you must find a way to speak up for yourself and advocate for change. Whether that is through raising your own voice, finding an adult ally to amplify your voice, or other means, you have to speak up for what you believe in. This lesson can be applied directly to school-based health centers. The work that is done by school-based health care providers impacts us youth more than anyone else. All of their behind-the-scenes, administrative duties are done to create a better school-based health center to better serve youth in your community. It shouldn’t have to be your responsibility to keep them in check. However, sometimes you’ve got to take matters into your own hands.

WE ARE THE FUTURE OF SOCIETY, AND WE MUST BE ACKNOWLEDGED AS SUCH.

References

  1. Chair C. GEO’S Demands for A Safe and Just Pandemic Response for All. Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO). https://www.geo3550.org/2020/09/04/geos-demands-for-a-safe-and-just-pandemic-response-for-all/. Published September 5, 2020. Accessed October 14, 2020.
  2. Llanes C. U of M files unfair labor practice charge against graduate student employee union. Michigan Radio. https://www.michiganradio.org/post/u-m-files-unfair-labor-practice-charge-against-graduate-student-employee-union. Published September 12, 2020. Accessed October 14, 2020.
  3. Hermes G, Johncox C. Student video criticizing University of Michigan’s ‘quarantine housing’ goes viral. WDIV. https://www.clickondetroit.com/all-about-ann-arbor/2020/09/14/student-video-criticizing-university-of-michigans-quarantine-housing-goes-viral/. Published September 14, 2020. Accessed October 14, 2020.
  4. Marowski S. University of Michigan, residence hall staff agree to deal, end strike. mlive. https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2020/09/university-of-michigan-residence-hall-staff-agree-to-deal-end-strike.html. Published September 23, 2020. Accessed October 14, 2020.
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