Perspectives on a Pandemic

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In these dark times students at University College Utrecht are scared, but try to stay sane, Keerthi Sridharan notices. “It’s not hard to feel like a wrung-out dishtowel, simultaneously too overworked and too lethargic to function.”

Community is all we have. That’s my intellectual, semi-coherent take today. Community has been the only constant in all this chaos. For this article, I was asked to write about my experience with COVID-19. But that’s just the thing: my individual experience is not unique. My “take” on the corona situation isn’t going to magically provide people with a fresh new perspective, because fundamentally, there is no individual experience of a pandemic. There are definitely those whose voices should be elevated in these times--healthcare professionals, first-generation/low-income college students, immunocompromised youths and elders alike--but mine is not one of those voices. So instead of presenting you with my “corona story”, I will tell you that of UCU.

I’m still in Utrecht, on a semi-abandoned campus, a small group of lonely people trying their absolute hardest to be a little less lonely every day. We get a daily newsletter from the Crisis Team detailing UCU-specific updates, and near-constant updates from our student association board and academic student council (ASC), both working tirelessly to keep everyone on campus motivated and smiling. We make the most of what we’ve got.

There are concerts: broadcasted from balconies, livestreamed on Instagram, or just me, serenading my plants. There are sourdough starters and loaves of bread (!), yoga sessions and embroidery groups (all maintaining 1.5m distance, of course). There are calls home, wildly tedious explanations of the mechanics of Skype. In my unit, there are study sessions, where I bake enough cookies to send us into a food coma and we all click around at various Google docs until we give up. There are movie marathons, table tennis games (sans table--trust me, it works), Mario Kart tournaments, and of course, lap after lap after lap around the quad. There are campus cats to play with and slices of cheesecake for sale, and, in a recent development, several bunches of daisies peeking up from the soil, keeping us going.

There are bad days, of course. Every social media offering is constantly inundating us with grief and paranoia, and the current regulations, though necessary, are barring most of us from the very idea of physical affection. Zoom classes require so much more energy and effort than a face-to-face session, and my fellow ADHD-riddled folks and I are near-constantly overstimulated in an online classroom environment. It’s not hard to feel like a wrung-out dishtowel, simultaneously too overworked and too lethargic to function. The university is, of course, doing their best given these unprecedented circumstances, but it’s easy to feel unsupported when grade boundaries and course structures remain unchanged across the board.

But we are alive, and we are thankful. We’re all scared; that isn’t liable to change anytime soon. But we do what we can to keep sane. I show my parents the rabbit-mouse-bat creature I’ve knitted over the weekend. We bake our bread, we water our plants. We sing. After all, we have to follow Brecht’s advice:

“In the dark times will there also be singing? Yes, there will also be singing. About the dark times.”
 

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