WHAT ABOUT US? HOW COVID-19 HAS LEFT MILLIONS OF UNIVERSITY STUDENTS IN THE DARK
Disclaimer: Before I begin writing this article, I find it important to note that I am fully aware that this pandemic has affected all generations of all communities throughout the world. I am in no way minimizing or disregarding the experiences of those heavily affected by this virus. Furthermore, my heart goes out to all of the people who have lost loved ones to this virus, and I am incredibly thankful for the supermarket cashiers, nurses, doctors, and so many other people working on the frontlines to support our community during this crisis. Lastly, I would like to acknowledge that being able to attend university to begin with is an immense privilege, and I am grateful for the opportunities that I have received upon entering university. I’m writing this article to provide insight into the experiences of university students in the US as I understand that experiences are different for students across the globe.
Over the last few years, if you’ve kept up with documentaries on Netflix or TedTalks by Bill Gates, you would have known somewhere in the back of your mind that the next “world pandemic” was inevitable. We knew that it was going to affect all of humanity, yet most of us never truly grasped the extent to which it would have an impact on our everyday lives. Even when we first started hearing about “some virus in Wuhan” back in December, most of us did not expect that just a few months later we would be in this current situation. And yet, here we are. For those of us who are fortunate, we are locked away in our homes, rationing our toilet paper and food supply, thinking to ourselves “what next?”
This question is especially daunting for millions of university students here in the US. Many students have been kicked out of their dorms and have been dealing with the transition to online classes on top of navigating life during a pandemic. Although it’s great that some universities are opting to pass/fail classes for this semester, that doesn’t take away from the pressure of endless assignments that we’re somehow expected to do and most importantly, the lost opportunities. Everyday I hear of internships being cancelled across the globe, study abroad opportunities being cut short, research programs going down the drain, and a whole generation of university students unsure of how they are going to make up for all of these losses. Perhaps worst of all, for the class of 2020 who have already had their commencement ceremonies cancelled or postponed, they will also be entering one of one of the worst economies since 2009.
When you’re a university student, the reality is that every opportunity you come across throughout your undergraduate years feels (emphasis on feels because of course there are many other aspects) like one of the most important factors that affects your chances of getting a job after graduating. Companies want experience, but how are we supposed to gain experience when everything around us is stopping? You’re only a university student once during your early 20’s, and if these are some of the most important years of our lives in terms of our careers, how are we expected to make up for this lost time?
Before I instill panic on university students reading this, I want to mention that there is in fact a way for us students to navigate these complex times. Instead of simply cancelling internships, companies should try and shift their internships online. Of course this is not the same as getting the “in-office” experience, but it still shows that companies are willing to accommodate for student needs. If shifting online is not plausible, at least postponing internships is another option. The current generation of university students will soon be making up an essential portion of the workforce, and if companies want to continue to expand, they must invest in talent now so that there won’t be a shortage later on. Supporting students now is fundamental to rebuild our economy. Furthermore, universities can support students by collaborating with companies to help secure internships or research opportunities for students. Most importantly, it’s important for us to turn these times of uncertainty into an opportunity to take initiative and spend this time doing something that we have never had the time to do before. By this, I don’t mean go and write a novel or get fit, but maybe drawing more or reading a book. Maybe working on something that you’ve always wanted to do. I understand that there’s a lot of pressure to make the most out of this quarantine phase, but it’s okay if you’re looking to spend time focusing on yourself.
For some of us, internships and job applications are the least of our concerns. There are students who are merely trying to support themselves or their families while keeping up with classes. This requires as much support as possible from their universities. So how can this be done? The first step is identifying at-risk students and reaching and ensuring that they are able to receive any monetary or medical assistance necessary. Professors can check attendance of online lectures and keep note of students who are missing lectures or seem distracted and reach out to students if it seems necessary. Furthermore, encouraging communication amongst students and faculty members, making it clear that students have someone to talk to regarding their concerns, and allowing access to counselors is also crucial. The last thing students need right now is more uncertainty. Hence, continuous relay of information is important so students can stay up to date on university policies and different forms of support that are available to them.
In times of crisis like this, students need all the support they can get whether it be from universities, employers, and family members. Below I have added links to websites that provide support for university students amidst the current outbreak.
McLean: Tips to Help College Students During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Social Work License Map: 60 Digital Resources for Mental Health