This pandemic has been going on for a long minute. First, the lockdown was supposed to last for only two weeks. Many of us, myself included, thought very little of the gravity of the situation.
Then it ramped up: what started out as two weeks became an indefinite period that consumed the summer. The leaves started to turn as we began to think about whether or not it was feasible to go back to school. The enormous cost of education became harder to justify, with many of my friends around me from high school deciding to take gap years, as to not start college in a pandemic. I’ve found the lectures from online schooling are awkward at best and useless at worst. However, the most dismal aspects of the pandemic are the social implications. How can you make friends when everyone is supposed to stay socially distanced, and a large portion of the student body is not supposed to come to campus? Meeting new people has been downright difficult.
We are now approaching the end of winter, as we start to delve into the Spring 2021 semester. Nearly a year of our lives has been mutilated by COVID-19. However, I say mutilated, and not taken away, because I think we have managed to adapt in some ways to these conditions and make the best of things. For example, Discord, a communications platform, has always played a subtle, yet notable, role in campus interconnectedness. Now, many clubs at NJIT have always used Discord to attract new members, schedule meetings and more.
Since the pandemic, students in a majority of my classes have gone out of their way to create Discord servers focused solely on helping individuals with the material in that class. These common spaces, although not exactly the same as meeting up in groups in person, act as forums for students to ask questions, plan study sessions and interact with each other in ways that would be otherwise impossible in the pandemic. I think these “Discords” are awesome because they are so inclusive. Anyone with the link can join, and weirdly I think it has made online learning a lot more bearable. Last semester I took Probability and Statistics, and I don’t know how it happened, but students taking that class across every section managed to come together in a single Discord server. It gave me a feeling of community with my peers, and it made studying for the exams much easier for me, as there were now dozens of students working who I could work with to solve problems together, as opposed to me doing it by myself, compounded on top of the loneliness this pandemic has put us through.
I have seen that there are opportunities for social engagement out there, but only if you are willing to seek it. Luckily, I’ve found that club life at NJIT is still going strong, with many clubs having weekly virtual meetings and online activities. Now online, I viewed this as an opportunity to step outside of my own comfort zone. I had the personal goal of joining at least one new club this semester, The Vector, which is an ambition that I have fulfilled. There are always new social spaces to explore, and while it may feel daunting, other students have been willing to help me along. This is a comforting thought to me because it demonstrates that the loneliness we may feel from learning at home is common, natural and something that we can help each other work through.
And I believe this will be key to us eventually unshackling the chains of the pandemic and returning to typical college life. The coming and distribution of the different COVID-19 vaccines are potentially a sign that the pandemic might be coming to an end, and that we might just pull through it.
Graphic by Sreya Das