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Opinion: Students reflect on the impact of COVID-19

Necessity of self-isolation, graduation concerns, and criticisms of administration
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JULIEN BALBONTIN/THE VARSITY
JULIEN BALBONTIN/THE VARSITY

Self-isolation is a necessary sacrifice for students with weakened immune systems

When I was younger, I always enjoyed sick days. Sitting on the couch while one of my parents catered to my every need, I felt like royalty. I didn’t have to think about schoolwork, and the work I missed would often be forgiven. It was truly my favourite experience. I thought self-isolation would feel the same, but I realize now that I was very wrong.

Thinking back to my sick days as a kid, what I loved wasn’t being home alone; it was not having anything to stress about. I knew that whatever was making me ill would disappear after a day or two, and being stuck at home didn’t hinder my ability to have fun. But all that changes when you’re stuck in a small dorm room with nothing but a laptop, a phone, and a bed. Now I still have schoolwork to stress over, and I don’t have a whole house to myself.

My immune system has never been the strongest and my asthma has worsened over the years. These two factors put me in the high-risk category for COVID-19, and with that in mind, I am now in self-isolation. The consequences of being potentially infected outweigh the consequences of being by myself.

Isolation is lonely; that’s the best way to put it. You might say that I can still call or FaceTime people, but it really isn’t the same. Even before I isolated myself, I refused physical contact for weeks. I haven’t been hugged by anyone in what feels like an eternity. I have yet to have a mental breakdown, and I’m not keeping track of how many days I’ve been imprisoned.

With that in mind, my mental health is not doing great. I never realized how much I would miss contact with the outside world. Food is delivered to my room, but I don’t get to see anyone. No pleasantries, no conversation, just a knock at the door. And yet, I am excited every time because I get to feel like I have a connection to the world.

The worst part about this is that I don’t know when I can go back outside. I’m not waiting for 14 days to see if I have symptoms; rather I am trying to avoid the possibility of getting the virus in the first place. With the spread of COVID-19 accelerating around the world, this self-isolation feels more and more like a life-sentence. No parole, no leaving early for good behaviour.

Only time will tell what will happen, but for now I’ve accepted my sentence.

Jack Rendall is a first-year Social Sciences student at Victoria College.

International students are caught in a hard place without adequate warning ahead of U of T’s cancellation of in-person classes

Today, I’ve been overwhelmed with many unanswered questions: if activities are only being suspended until April 3, is there a chance that final exams will be held in-person? If classes will be delivered online, should I go back to Brazil? What are the risks of travelling internationally now, considering the COVID-19 situation?

Out of my five courses, only one has sent out an email regarding a possible contingency plan, and it has provided no information on how online classes and the final exam will be held.

It seems that professors are still trying to figure out how to wrap up courses, and as of now, we’re only getting a definitive decision that has few to no answers. To international students, this might feel a bit like the end of the world, as we have to start making plans that will potentially be very costly, whether these are costs of rescheduling international flights or the emotional costs of staying away from family at a time of isolation.

The longer the university takes to provide a clear action plan on how the remainder of the semester will be carried out, the higher the costs for students, especially for those who are thousands of kilometres away from home.

Ana Pereira is a second-year Business Management and English student at St. Michael’s College.

“Are you graduating?” I don’t know, am I?

I went to a high school that followed the British system, which entailed 13 years of schooling, not 12 like some other systems. However, as I had my eyes set on U of T, I left after grade 12 — meaning that I never experienced a high school graduation. Now, it seems that the possibility of hundreds of students, faculty, and parents sitting in Convocation Hall as I walk across the stage to accept my diplomas is becoming less and less likely. 

Will I really never get to experience a graduation, be it from high school or university? 

Don’t get me wrong, social distancing is absolutely the preventative measure we should all be implementing in an effort to contain the virus. The university’s recent decision to cancel in-class lectures for undergraduates and research-stream graduate students is the correct one, not because Ontario and Canada are spiraling out of control due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but because it’s preventative measures like this that will hopefully stop the country from being in that position. 

As much as I support social distancing and see the benefits that it has to offer in terms of preventing the spread of COVID-19, I can’t help but admit that I hope the situation will be a much more positive one come June — this girl needs to experience a graduation.

I am the first one to admit that this is a small concern compared to the many real problems that others are facing during this time. I’m fortunate as a humanities student in my final year of undergraduate studies — I’ve already faced most of my pre-graduation hurdles. I simply have to endure one final exam season before tasting the sweet satisfaction that comes with graduating.

But there are definitely final-year students out there in more intense programs who have even more issues to deal with now that U of T has cancelled most in-class lectures in favour of online classes.

I just hope that online participation does not take on a whole new meaning in June when we will be sitting at home with our laptops attending a virtual graduation.

Tasmiyah Randeree is a fourth-year student studying English and History at New College.

The university’s lack of planning and communication leaves students with more questions than answers

The sudden shock of the movement of classes online is concerning. Just this past week, my political science professors told us that classes were ongoing but that they have been told by the department to prepare in the case that the university closed. It was a bleak, unwelcome repeat of the feelings of syllabus week, except with a sprinkle of existential dread.

When I mentioned this moment to friends who weren’t in my program, there were some major differences. They said that some professors had already called off in-person classes, while others hadn’t mentioned anything about COVID-19. Some professors were testing out a week of online classes, while others were clearly not keen on having to navigate another technological platform.

There was no guiding point. We were left in the dark.

Are the rules of the syllabus still binding at times like these? Are we still expected to go to our exams? Wouldn’t that undermine the point of not having class?

The university has advised students to return to their homes before exams if they can. Libraries and residences will remain open for those who can’t. It has become clear — exams are likely still happening, even if they might be online.

With the deadline to drop courses just passing, I had to make decisions without knowing exactly what was happening. Would my courses have changed? Should I have remained enrolled or dropped them instead? Will there be special exemptions in terms of the drop dates or CR/NCR options? Cancelling classes is one thing, but it’s not the only thing on people’s minds right now.

The pandemic has been a looming possibility since late 2019 — enough time to have made better preparations than this.

Joy Zhixin Fan is a third-year International Relations, Public Policy, and Political Science student at St. Michael’s College.