Below is the full, unedited text of a submission to CovidStoriesArchive.org detailing one young man’s experience at a prestigious Southern California university during the Covid era. It was printed in full at Rational Ground. Please contact Covid Stories Archive if you would like to use or reproduce this essay, in whole or in part, for your research or writing. Also, please consider sharing your own stories for preservation in our archive.
I was a little over halfway through my freshman year of college when Covid hit. I had worked my butt off during high school and was attending my dream school (a very prestigious and expensive university in the Los Angeles area), had joined a fraternity, made some incredible friends and was loving my life. School was hard, but I was learning so much and enjoyed my professors.
My parents own their own business and have dealings overseas, so they knew about Covid in November 2019. They actually sent me back to school after the Christmas break with a couple masks just in case. One of the guys living on my floor in the dorm was from the Wuhan area of China and our entire floor got sick shortly after classes resumed for the Spring semester. We were all young and healthy and shook it off within a few days. My parents were convinced that we all had Covid even though no one was talking about it here in the US at that time.
Then we received THE email. The one telling us that they were closing campus and we needed to be out of our dorms in two. The next days were a blur as we all tried to finish our classes, pack up all of our earthly belongings and then make the trek back home. I settled into online classes for the remainder of the semester. It wasn’t the same as in person class, but it seemed like the right thing to do as so little was known about Covid at the time. I was hopeful that I would back back in sunny California by summer.
Summer rolled around and campus was still closed. I decided to take a couple online classes as they were significantly less expensive than the normal tuition rate. I hung out with my old friends who were in the same boat and tried to stay positive even though I was growing restless. I was supposed to be enjoying a normal life as a college student and instead I was back at home.
The fall semester started and my university remained closed just like the rest of California. They decided to RAISE the already high tuition charge us the Campus Life Fee even though you weren’t aloud to step foot on campus. I decided to stay at home and go part time for the fall semester. The professors were trying their best, but I was surprised by how technologically illiterate they were especially considering the prestige of this university. I had heard stories from many of my friends that Zoom University at their school was a walk in the park. They would load up on 30+ credit hours and just coast through the classes because the professors didn’t care and every test would be open note/open book. My university, on the other hand, limited the number of credit hours that you could take, limited the class sizes to 24 or less and seemed to increase the difficulty of the requirements and testing for the classes. I was miserable. I was still stuck at my parents house, taking ridiculously hard classes via Zoom with no end in sight.
My parents could see how miserable I was an insisted that I go back out to California for the spring semester even if that meant I was doing Zoom classes from an overpriced SoCal apartment. At least I would be back with my friends. We found and apartment and I drove my car back just before Christmas. My parents were supposed to fly out and help me get furniture but my dad wound up catching Covid at his doctor’s office (routine annual physical) the day after I left and so I had to rent a U-Haul and furnish my apartment on my own.
To my disappointment, my school remained closed for the spring semester so I settled into Zoom U from my apartment which I shared with 3 friends. It was hard spending so much time cooped up in my bedroom, but we were still able to go out and about in LA. There were many restrictions, and only certain things were open, but it felt like life might get back to normal soon.
By Easter, the four of us were going stir crazy and so we decided to go to Miami for a long weekend. We couldn’t believe the contrast between Miami and LA. Everything was open, people were happy and life was normal. Back in LA, everyone was afraid and angry, people would shout at you if you dared to walk on the beach without a mask and things were still closed. My friends and I started talking about transferring to Miami.
I decided not to take any classes during the summer term and went home for an entire month. I was tired of being stuck in my apartment. I was tired of having to wear a mask everywhere I went, even outside. My roommates are my best friends, but we were on top of each other day and night and I needed a break.
In late July the university let us know that at long last campus would be open for the fall semester but that we would be required to be fully vaccinated. They said that limited exemptions would be granted. I have a preexisting medical condition and, as a result, I am not a candidate for the vaccine at this time. My doctor says that maybe I will be after some more information about the vaccine becomes available. My family wasn’t worried about this because I am a healthy 20-year-old who has already had Covid and has some degree of natural immunity. I filled out the vaccine exemption paperwork and was both happy and surprised when my exemption was granted. I would be required to undergo weekly Covid testing (provided by the university) and to wear a mask at all times while on campus. I didn’t care because school was open and things were looking up.
It didn’t take long for my attitude to sour. The system set up to manage the weekly Covid testing didn’t work. Despite dozens of attempts, I would be unable to schedule my test via the online system. When I decided to just walk into the testing center, I would be told that I couldn’t be tested because I didn’t have an appointment. After a heated discussion, they would reluctantly give me a test and my results would be emailed the next day (negative!). The following day, I would received a rather nasty email stating that I had failed to complied with the university’s weekly Covid testing requirement and that if I were not tested within the next 24 hours I would be forcibly unenrolled from all of my classes and expelled from the school. I would call Student Health Services and they would locate my negative test and apologize for the confusion. This same scenario would be repeated on a near weekly basis.
Meanwhile it was becoming clear that things were far from normal on campus. Most of the restaurants on campus were closed. The microwave had been removed from the cafeteria because of “Covid” and they were only serving grab-and-go items like prepackaged sandwiches or tubs of cereal or Easy Mac. We were supposed to “cook” the Easy Mac by dousing it with a little boiling water.
If I was sitting alone in a private study room in the library and lowered my mask to take a drink from my water bottle, one of the librarians would run into the room, shrieking, “DO NOT LOWER YOUR MASK! YOU CANNOT LOWER YOUR MASK! NOT EVEN TO TAKE A DRINK!” If students objected and tried to point out that they were sitting alone in a closed room, they would be removed from the library by the campus security. I could list dozens of stories just like this.
Then the news broke that LA county was considering passing a vaccine mandate. I braced myself for the worst but was still hopeful that they would stop short of this draconian measure. Who was I kidding? It’s LA and the mandate went into effect last month. I am no longer able to go out to eat, to Whole Foods or enter most stores. I have been completely blocked from living any kind of normal life in this city. The business owners are sympathetic to the fact that I have a medical exemption, but they are unable to break the rules lest they be fined. I now spend my days trapped in my apartment or in class and am counting down the days until winter break.
My professors are just loading me up with busywork. They frequently cancel class and it feels like they are just phoning it in. I recently told my parents that the only thing I have learned this semester is disappointment and how to be angry. When I people ask me where I go to school and I say the name, the automatic reply is, “Wow! That’s a REALLY great school.” I think to myself that they would be shocked if they actually knew what it’s like on campus now and how far the educational standards have dropped.
I have decided to leave California. I have taken a leave of absence from my university and will be moving back home as soon as I am finished with finals. I am going to take a semester off and work for the family business. I am considering transferring to another school for next fall, but am honestly unsure if I will ever finish my degree. Covid has made a mockery of our university system and I am not sure if it will ever recover. My dreams of college and life in California have died a slow, painful death since Covid shut the world down back in March 2020. I am no longer angry. Life is too short and I am going to go start living it.
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