As an introvert, I have been in some way, shape or form preparing for this moment for my entire life. I had used Zoom before a few of my classes made the switch to virtual meetings on the platform, and I was no stranger to the virtual learning world. I used Google Hangouts before it was cool or necessary. I regularly swipe through videos on TikTok, which is apparently a quintessential Generation Z activity.
And still, with all of that generational knowledge, I ran into all sorts of questions during the start of my online courses a few weeks ago. Could I be more informal in my class’s BlueJeans chat than I would be in a class email? How am I possibly going to take an exam online? Are other people also realizing that this particularly useless meeting or mandatory in-person seminar could have just been an email?
My initial opinion about shifting from in-person classes to online meetings was largely negative. It’s definitely been difficult to retain information and remain focused during these online sessions, and many students I’ve talked to have expressed similar feelings. During class and during my newly-expanded amount of free time, I am having difficulty motivating myself to do anything at all. I miss my classmates and roommates a whole lot, and I miss studying with friends. I miss being employed. I miss certainty, routine and structure.
In particular, I miss my roommate’s Muddy Buddies. That is not a euphemism for something weird or kinky — one of my roommates makes this delicious snack (also known as puppy chow) that simply tastes like joy and whose components yield zero health benefits. There is perhaps an argument to be made in defense of the peanut butter, but the rest of the ingredients for Muddy Buddies (confectioner’s sugar, cocoa, butter, etc.) have about as much nutritional value and addictive quality as the average mango Juul pod. I thought that my exodus from Ann Arbor would mark the end of my roommate’s delicious treats for the house to enjoy. My sister has a vicious allergy that could require hospitalization if she were to ingest a peanut, and in this time of crisis, messy peanut butter foods are to be strictly avoided in my household. Imagine my surprise later, standing in the half-empty Detroit Metropolitan-Wayne County airport, as I spotted some Chex Mix Muddy Buddies ripoffs on the way to my gate. I impulsively bought two bags.
It is hard to describe the taste of Muddy Buddies à la Chex Mix. I suppose it tastes like giving up, if that were something one could taste. Whereas snacking on my roommate’s Muddy Buddies provided me with the carelessly optimistic sense that everything in the world might just turn out OK, crunching on these artificially-flavored bad boys evoked the anxiety of a mediocre English or theater major graduating into one of the worst job markets in recent history. If you were to rip open the dark belly of all human despair and venture into the gunk of its fleshy depths, you’d find those peanut butter chocolate Chex Mix bags.
As a recent Harvard Business Review article suggests, the coronavirus crisis will create indelible changes within the United States. and abroad. It’s unclear exactly how the massive shift to online college courses will impact the future of learning at the University of Michigan, or other educational institutions in the long-term. A nation-wide survey of college students have found the psychological effect of their school’s shutdown to be significant; many survey respondents reported higher levels of depression and anxiety. This should come as no surprise given the abrupt changes in daily student life: 52 percent of respondents had been unexpectedly laid off from a job or had their hours cut back, 28 percent lack reliable access to healthy meals and 20 percent lack reliable access to a mobile device or WiFi.
Statistics like these illustrate my biggest concern with the “we’re in this together” style of guidance to those feeling dejected about the crisis. Some students have the means to make it through the coronavirus pandemic with very few disruptions if any at all, as suggested by the 21 percent of survey respondents who expressed no significant changes in their lives due to the coronavirus. Some students may be forced with the decision to withdraw from their studies. Many students will lose loved ones. We are not, in fact, all in it together. This is perhaps something we forgot amid the confusion of President Donald Trump’s response to the coronavirus, the shuffling closure of many public places like libraries or restaurants or the bizarre frenzy of the supermarket rush for — of all things — toilet paper.
Everyone has someone who cares about them and would love to hear from them (from afar — seriously, please stay at home). It would be foolish to expect our attempts at social interaction in quarantine to be as good or as valuable as the genuine sense of fulfillment that comes with getting to see your favorite people. It might as well be a law of physics that Chex Mix’s imitation puppy chow will never taste like my roommate’s, but I eat it nonetheless. I still go to my online classes, despite the lingering feeling of loss that is palpable among students who have ceased to see their friends, go to work or leave their houses.
Do what you have to do. As one of my favorite professors once said in her newly-online office hours, “Be gentle with yourself.” Try to make new memories, good ones.
Allison Pujol can be reached at email@example.com.