As I enter my last semester at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, I acknowledge that this year has been far from ordinary. Although my senior year may not have been ideal, I’m lucky to have had the opportunity to stay in Amherst with some of my favorite people in the world. Here's a few thoughts on the fall 2020 semester.
I took five classes this semester: Journalism 492M: Magazine Writing; Communication 325H: Media, Race, & Politics; Honors 499CN: Women Organize for a Better World (the course dedicated to writing my Honors Thesis); Communication 497QP: Queer Performance and Publics; and Journalism 432: Public Relations and Integrated Communication Cases.
I consider myself close to the professor that teaches J432, Jennie Donohue, and I’m really interested in public relations as a potential career path, so I’d say that was my favorite class. I was most pleasantly surprised by Comm497QP because I didn’t initially plan on taking this class (I originally signed up for a coding class but dropped it). This class brought me greater social awareness about some of the struggles faced by marginalized groups in America. I’d recommend this class to any communication major before they graduate, just because of how much it opened my eyes to the real world.
I’m not a scheduled person and I have an extremely short attention span. These traits are especially toxic when your entire semester is remote, because you are given more autonomy in how to spend your time. To stay organized, I’d make schedules — down to the hour — of when I’d get up, eat, do my homework, socialize, and work out (if I had time to). This was a little extreme and I definitely relaxed as the semester progressed, but I did force myself to actually follow these schedules. This method worked a lot, and even coming out of the pandemic I will try to keep managing my time with a schedule. Time management is something I’ve grown accustomed to because of the coronavirus, and I am proud to say I procrastinate a little less now.
Something a bunch of my friends and I experienced for the first time this semester was an overwhelming anxiety that we were going to miss a deadline — even though we never did. There was always a looming sense that there was something due, and we just somehow overlooked it. Maybe because we weren’t in a classroom setting and we didn’t have teachers constantly reminding us of due dates. None of us actually did miss a deadline. If anything, we were more on top of them, just because we had to be. My teachers, however, stressed the importance of prioritizing mental health during the pandemic — I’m sure even if I did miss a deadline, they would’ve been very understanding.
I live in an apartment five minutes away from campus with one roommate — my best friend since freshman year. With emotions high because of the pandemic, I’m grateful to live with someone I’m so close with. I also am grateful to have only one roommate — my original plans for the semester were to live in my sorority house, but due to safety precautions I decided not to.
My roommate and I share the same friend group, so throughout the semester we had a small cohort of people that we’d spend time with. This was nice because there was less stress about who was going where and what we were going to be exposed to — we spent the majority of our social life together. There was always an initial panic, though, if someone we knew was exposed to the virus. A cute roomie date we’d often have was biweekly testing at the Mullins Center asymptomatic testing clinic. Luckily, any COVID scares we had were just that — scares.
I applaud UMass Amherst for vigilance in the pandemic. I think how a school responds to COVID-19 is extremely telling of its priorities, and it has been very evident how much UMass puts the safety of its students, faculty, and staff at the forefront of its concern.
I am the only one of my high school friend group who had fully remote learning, and I am also the only one who got tested twice a week, every week. When I’d go on walks around campus, I’d wear my mask (I often didn’t when I exercise at home in Connecticut, but now I do). I feel safe on campus knowing how easy it is to get tested and how many tests the school administers a day. UMass Amherst is very transparent about its case numbers — they have an online dashboard where you can see exactly what weeks saw spikes in cases, and where these cases were found (whether that be the asymptomatic testing center at Mullins, or at University Health Services).
These factors clearly pay off well, as UMass hasn’t seen dangerous numbers of cases. While it’s hard to make a judgement on what constitutes good/bad case numbers, UMass has not once grown lazy, cut corners, or acted out of anything but the best interest for campus and the surrounding community. I am proud to say I’m a student here because of this.
The thing I probably miss the most is UMass Amherst’s #1 dining. One would think I’d get better at cooking, granted I’ve lived in quarantine since March, right? Wrong. The only things I know how to prepare are salads and pasta, and I burned through a pan trying to make eggs. I didn’t have a meal plan so I tried to save money on food as much as possible, but I still got my favorite meal from Blue Wall a few times (Mediterranean salad with meatless chicken from Green Fields!)
Eating off campus has been something I never could justify, because for the almost three years I lived on campus I had a meal plan — I’d feel bad eating off campus when my mom was paying for my meal plan, especially when the food was so good on campus. This semester, although I did cook (reheat frozen food) in my apartment, and my roommate and I still occasionally ordered take out. We made a valiant effort to try new places because it’s our last year living in Amherst — this included La Veracruzana, a Mexican restaurant in Amherst Center, Northampton Brewery in Northampton, 110 Grill in Hadley, and The Taste, a Thai restaurant also in Amherst Center. Of these, I think my favorite was the Northampton Brewery. We stuck to outdoor seating and takeout, just to be safe.
My social life
Obviously, socializing is nothing like it used to be, but that’s true for everybody right now. If anything, my social life is better at UMass than at home, but even then my Friday nights often consisted of my roommate and I binge watching seasons of Master Chef Junior. Still, I’m grateful — being in Amherst, in walking distance of UMass, gave my semester the slightest bit of normalcy.
My roommate and I hang out with the same five people, who are all roommates. These “hang outs” really were us just going to each other's apartments. In a way, I’m grateful that the pandemic brought me closer to these people, because I can’t say I’d be hanging out with them as much if it wasn’t for strict gathering rules. Although I wish I could be going out more with friends, even if that means sitting inside of a restaurant, I’m lucky to have spent time with my friends this semester — I know that's more than what a lot of people can do right now.
Hope for the Future
I never realized how much I appreciate little trips to get coffee with my friends, going on walks around campus, or getting takeout from hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurants in downtown Amherst. As I enter my last semester of college, I will continue to make an effort to take advantage of these opportunities, because I know how much I’ll miss it when I graduate. Although this semester is not what I, or the rest of Class of 2021, anticipated, I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to experience a very-different-than-expected senior year in Amherst.
At the same time, I feel hopeful for the students who will be starting at UMass Amherst in Fall 2021. With a vaccine literally on the way (vaccinations are already starting!); the Class of 2025 will get to experience all the things that made UMass Amherst special: #1 Dining, RSOs, Greek life, live events like music and sports, and working out at the Rec Center. While I'm thankful I was able to have a remote semester, I'm excited that soon the college experience that has meant so much to me will be available to future UMass students!