In a dream, his younger sister told him that he had to stay healthy to watch his weight. If he were infected with Covid-19, obesity could make it harder to beat the virus.
Ayisire knew it was true. Stressed and depressed, he had gained more than 50 pounds in the past few months since his sister had returned from college in the middle of the fall semester. But when he was lying on the floor where he had slept, he felt strengthened and comforted by her words. He was ready to face the day.
The past year was marked by such moments – the confrontation with a once unthinkable new normal. A year ago today, the University of Washington took the then extreme step of postponing classes online and ultimately canceling the rest of the personal semester. This decision ushered in a new reality for universities. Businesses, schools and other institutions across the country soon followed suit.
Since then, the pandemic has killed more than 500,000 Americans and left millions of people jobless. It has shaken up even the smallest parts of everyday life.
To document how profoundly Covid-19 has changed work and life in higher education, The Chronicle watched more than a dozen people in a single day – Monday March 1st. For many of them, life in a pandemic no longer feels new. But her daily life has changed. They are full of unexpected challenges, energizing moments of connection, and devastating losses.
On this Monday morning, Ayisire has little time to linger. He and his family have a long day ahead of them. They are moving out of their home in Arlington, Texas and today is the last day to move their things to their new places. The next morning they owe their old landlord the keys.
He skips breakfast and goes to the old house. He sees his mother's room, where his sister sometimes slept when she visited. He records the memories. And then he starts loading the car.
"It's a perfectly normal morning," she says. Then she laughs.
Last May Voltz moved halfway across the country with Cairo to start a new job at Case. She moved into a house she'd never seen before – bought when she was a professor at the University of Utah – and started working from home.
Although she met some of her colleagues in the history department during her pre-pandemic interview, she never worked with them in person, was never in their office, and only entered campus once to see their I.D.
After classes in the fall semester and a three-week online January semester, Voltz has time off from class to work on something that has not been changed by the pandemic: her unfinished manuscript.
To keep her focus, Voltz found a daycare at home near her new home. She argued that the risk would be small because it is small.
It's not a perfect solution. On Friday, February 26th, Voltz had planned about five hours of meetings. That morning, she received a text stating that the daycare would be closed for that day because one of the children had to be tested for Covid. Voltz is a single mother. She had no choice but to go ahead with her meetings and laugh at it when her son on-camera popped crackers into her mouth.
But on Monday morning the daycare center is open and Voltz is preparing Cairo so that she can work on her manuscript. That means tripping over pots and walking around strawberries and pancakes that he threw on the floor while she prepares his lunch and gets shoes and socks on his feet.
At 9 a.m., Voltz and Cairo are ready to leave when she realizes that their coats are still in the car and that it is parked in a detached garage.
No matter. The weather is changing, she says. “It feels like maybe 45, 50,” she says as she walks to the car. She looks at her cell phone. It's 23 degrees.
Cheryl Bickley juggles other responsibilities. It's been almost a year since she was on leave from Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, where she researched potential donors for the development office. She was released in July.
On Monday morning, she's simultaneously filling out forms to find a new psychotherapist for her daughter, Carleigh, and waiting on the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity website to claim her bi-weekly unemployment benefit.
Your mornings will soon be busier. She has to wake Carleigh and make breakfast. Make sure Carleigh, who is on the Autism Spectrum, is signed up for sixth grade through Zoom. Let in the behavioral therapist who teaches Carleigh to calm down when she's frustrated.
Finding the behavior therapist back in May was a huge win. Bickley had wanted this type of therapy for her daughter for a long time, but as a single mom who worked 11-hour days, she had no time to find anyone. The vacation gave her time. The therapist was 100 percent covered by Bickley's university health plan – until she was discharged. Then she had to decide: give up the therapist or take full health insurance without a paycheck coming in?
"I finally had the opportunity for her to have this therapy, and I didn't want to lose her," says Bickley. "What we're living on right now is my retirement."
Last but not least.
It was a long five days. But now, Monday morning, it's time to leave her bare room and walk the few blocks to her dormitory, with its fluffy pink carpet and the map of Baltimore, her hometown, on the wall.
Schwartz leaves the quarantine with more than she brought. On Saturday, she learned that her isolation would take a day longer than expected and she had a panic attack. A staff member brought her an extra pillow from her dormitory to comfort herself. Then there is all of the food Northeastern provided that she did not eat – milk cartons, bottles of tea, cereal – some of which she will donate.
Now she is dragging everything back and pulling the black garbage bag behind her. The plastic begins to tear. As she walks, the cracks widen.
Schwartz gets into an elevator and goes inside. She is finally home. She looks down and sees the torn black plastic garbage bag through which her pillow peeks. Dirt from the sidewalk had smeared the white fabric. "I will cry."
Similar scenes of misery and frustration have colored the campus over the past year. In many institutions, isolation was a routine part of student life. Colleges have shed 650,000 jobs, the largest drop in history. And countless students, faculties, and staff had more to do and less help with home responsibilities.
"We had a tough year," said José D. Padilla at a prayer service on his first day as president of Valparaiso University, a private Lutheran campus.
In the landmark chapel, in front of its towering stained glass windows, he ticks off the challenges. He walks slowly down the stairs to the masked people who have gathered in person and the empty seats between them.
Before the service, he wondered aloud if he could live up to the moment in what is expected of a new president. There's a difference between trust and hubris, he said. In the prayer service, he highlights many people on campus – the students, staff and teachers with long connections to Valpo – as leaders at his side.
They are the angels, he says to his new university, which holds a torch to drive away the darkness.
"You, you," he says, pointing to two people in the restricted chapel. And then he points to the camera where more has streamed the service from a distance.
Laura Iocin looks into the camera lens of her computer, her portal into the life of the students at the City College of New York, whom she advises.
The office upstairs in her Westchester County home is quiet. About 50 miles south of there, the counseling center Iocin runs is empty. But the work continued at a relentless pace. When the pandemic closed New York City and filled its hospitals last March, City College students were vulnerable. The college was out of the way and the counseling center held telephone sessions.
"They definitely need us now," Iocin says of her students. They work, some have children, or they take care of older family members. "We see a lot of depression, a lot of fear. "
Iocin considered case numbers. There are currently seven consultants – three of whom have hired part-time through the Cares Act – and seven apprentices looking for clinical experience. In a normal semester, it takes a few months for the number of trainees to fill up. But right now, a month later, there are only five openings left.
"We're just a little worried about that, ”she says. “We cannot turn anyone away. We need to meet with every student who reaches us.”
She noticed something else. Many students come to therapy for the first time because they need to talk about past sexual trauma that has surfaced. The pandemic has stressed people's lives, which exacerbates other problems. Iocin sits with them over Zoom for 50 minutes. She helps them find solutions and sometimes just listens. Virtual counseling has its drawbacks. Iocin can't read their body language when they're sitting in the waiting room or walking into their office – clues that tell her how they're doing. And if they have an emergency, Iocin is miles away.
Consultants also feel the weight of a difficult year. They were in each other's offices the whole time, checking in and talking about difficult cases. Now they're trying to recreate that sense of camaraderie in a 30-minute Zoom call that afternoon.
The pandemic has complicated Iocin's life along with everyone else's. Your young children need attention and it hurts to ask, but she has to work. She hasn't seen the rest of her family since 2018. She and her husband are from Romania and had planned to bring their children back there last summer, but now they do not know when they will visit them.
As the morning comes to an end, Iocin looks out the window. Her office is bright and quiet and she can see the tree tops. On her desk, two huge, glowing monitors stare at her.
Even if a bathroom appears unused, "you'll have to clean it again," says Lyons, who has been a housekeeper at College Park for 11 years. In a pandemic world, when many of us feel like we're going to be reliving the same day, Lyon plays that day twice.
That academic year, Lyon was frustrated when students gathered in lounges, some of which were not wearing masks. Or sometimes several students get into the elevator with her, which is against the rules, she says. In this case, she gets out. Last month, university officials blamed small dormitory gatherings for an increase in coronavirus cases, including in halls where Lyon works. The Diamondback reported. The outbreaks caused the university to put students on campus under a week-long sequester-in-place order.
The Lyon union is among the requested N95 masks for housekeepers in May, but it only recently heard that workers can get one on request. Lyons brings her own from home.
"I don't think it's fair for us to work with the students in the building," she says. "We have a family that has an underlying disease." She has high blood pressure and is worried about getting Covid-19 or taking it home to her husband.
Hafsa Siddiqi, the university's media relations manager, wrote in an email that the institution had implemented "many security measures" for staff, including the "regular" provision of non-N95 masks. (Lyons said she gets three every morning.) The university communications director said The Chronicle these federal guidelines do not advise N95 masks for non-healthcare workers.
This is the first Monday since the sequester-in-place order expired, and it's quiet. Lyons didn't have any student interactions that made her nervous. Even so, she says that she and her co-workers work in an “anxious environment”.
"Even though I'm scared, I still do my job," she says. "You expect it from us."
People like Lyon are taking the risk of the Covid campus. In administrative offices and research laboratories, executives try to manage this.
On Monday afternoon, Ana A. Weil and a group of scientists and programmers click Zoom for a routine meeting to discuss the details of the University of Washington's impressive Covid-19 test device.
A year ago, Weil focused on cholera research. However, the university's decision on March 6 to switch to online learning, followed by other universities, changed that. She started working on Covid in March last year when Helen Y. Chu, a colleague at UW Medicine who had quickly shifted the focus of her laboratory from influenza to coronavirus, announced in a faculty meeting that she had funding for testing in nursing homes in Seattle. But she needed help.
Weil raised his hand. "We tested in the parking lot, ”she says. "We tested in the rain."
Next, she was asked to test fraternities and sororities where an outbreak occurred. Finally, in the fall, the University asked Chu and Weil to design a test program for the entire university. They're also examining the data they are collecting, trying to learn and share how to prevent the virus from spreading at large institutions like the University of Washington.
"You land here a year later," says Weil. "Neither of us did Covid work a year ago."
The spring break is just around the corner. When the Zoom call is made, Weil and others wonder how they should test the students when they return. If they started testing students on the last weekend of the break, Weil says in the meeting: "We would have 7,225 divided by nine, 802 people per day." She calculates quickly. Not everyone will sign up for a test, so they could be giving out 600 tests a day to students. There is a lot, but no one in the meeting objects.
On the other coast, the afternoon risk assessment meeting at Benedict College is fast. Every department gives an update. University chief of staff, Ceeon D. Quiett Smith, asks questions.
A soccer test brings high schoolers to campus this weekend. Yes, they have to show a negative Covid-19 test. Someone from recruiting will pick up transcripts. We have to spray the toilets and changing rooms before and after.
It's midweek and staff are expecting a lot of pressure on the IT department and library. Are there enough PPE in academia?
The meeting is almost over when Gary E. Knight, vice president of student affairs, tells his colleagues to bow their heads. "Let's take a moment and look to the Lord and take a short break."
He reminds his colleagues that it is March 1st. Almost a year ago, they decided to close campus and send students home. "God carried us for a whole year."
“Think about the people in your family who are not here now. You are gone. "
Several people muttered.
"But we are here. We were here a year ago. We are here now.
“We could take care of a call. We could upset each other. But we succeeded. Were here. We are blessed to be here. I can't thank God enough. "
This veteran-only section is a pilot program at Coconino Community College. In O'Connor's pre-pandemic teaching life, she taught full-time in the writing program at Northern Arizona University. But that fell apart in April. She had a contract and her boss told her that she and her colleagues would not be postponed in composition. O'Connor called her mother and cried.
Then she got to work. O’Connor has put together its own teaching load that specializes in working with student veterans. This spring she is mixing classes at Coconino and NAU Honors College.
These conditional roles are fraught with uncertainty. Which classes will get through for the next semester? What about a year in now? O’Connor will bring this question to her students on Monday. After this course, would you want a veteran-only version of English 102? If they could find six more students, that would include the class, she tells them.
"If you have friends in a 101 class or friends who need 102, get them on board," she says, sitting at a high desk in her kitchen. "Give me your contact information – I can reach you. We can find a way to get to that Class 102 in the fall. "
"Every person finds a different person," says one student, "and we are golden."
You sign out and O'Connor begins her journey to the NAU where she will teach her afternoon honors college class in person and online. She and her 12-year-old daughter get into the car and drive off, blue skies flashing through the windows.
It's already night in Ada, Ohio, but time doesn't matter to Trinity Wobler. "It just doesn't feel like time exists," she says. "I'm bored all the time, but my day goes so quickly."
Wobler quarantined the last week of her sophomore year at Ohio Northern University in her on-campus apartment. A day may go by quickly, but it seems like an entire season has passed since she was isolated. When it started there was eight inches of snow on the ground. It's sunny and warm now.
"I just wanna go outside so badly," she says.
Wobler felt sick for the first time on a Tuesday night, but she was sure it was just something she was eating. Her throat hurt on Wednesday evening, so she went to the health center on Thursday morning. A nurse gave her a Covid test and told her she would get the results in 45 minutes. They would email if the test was negative and call if it was positive.
Wobler went back to her apartment and frantically started updating her email. "I've never feared a phone call so much in my life," she says.
45 minutes later her phone rang. Shit, she thought.
Next came a rush of instructions on what to do and questions about who she was in contact with. Wobler immediately started the quarantine. The university let her stay in her apartment and her roommate went home.
There was no time to prepare for isolation. A friend brought Wobler some groceries. She had laundry to do, but that had to wait. "Great," she thought, "now I'll have two weeks of dirty laundry."
Wobler has underlying diseases – asthma and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. On Friday morning, when she woke up with chest pain and tightness, a nurse told her to go to the emergency room. There, her blood was drawn and chest x-rays were taken. A doctor saw some signs that her heart might be damaged and let her stay overnight in hopes that she could have an echocardiogram that weekend.
That didn `t work. She was released the next day and asked to return to the echocardiogram in a week. Wobler's Covid symptoms had improved by Monday evening. But the feeling that time has stood still for her while it goes on for everyone else lingers.
"I look outside and see everyone walking around," she says. "I think people are still doing things?"
People are still doing things and it's about Mia Torres. She decides that the next student she sees without a mask will write it down.
The University of Connecticut dorm office had told assistants like Torres to write down residents immediately this semester because they weren't wearing face coverings. But Torres still likes warnings and her hall manager trusts the judgment of the RAs.
Sometimes things just happen too quickly for her to decide. During her 10 o'clock lap, an exposed woman quickly walked away while Torres and the RA she'd worked with that night, Tyler Shoban, warned her. "I feel a little silly when, from 15 feet away, I shout," Hey, stop running! "Says Torres.
Being an RA was a difficult balancing act during Covid-19. Administrators still want RAs to create a sense of warmth and community, or what's the point of opening dormitories during a pandemic? At the same time, it means that RAs have a great deal of responsibility when they are at the forefront of monitoring Covid prevention behaviors. "If I let up," says Torres, "I don't want to contribute to making Covid much worse."
She and Shoban begin their third and final round of the night at 11:30 a.m. and walk through the four floors of the Busby Suites. You see a study group that you had previously warned. This time two members are not wearing their masks. Torres continues her determination. "I thought, 'Oh man, we need to write you down," she says.
The students are calm. They want to know what will happen next. Residential Life will be in touch with them, she says, but they have been trained not to promise any specific result. It is no longer in their hands.
In her old house he would sweep the fireplace earlier in the day. This was the room where his sister Helen Etuk was isolated for the first time when she got sick.
Etuk was planning to go to the University of North Texas early on, which didn't surprise Ayisire. His sister, an aspiring pediatrician, was driven to save money. She wanted to be able to take care of her mother.
In the spring, the President of North Texas announced that the campus would attempt to reopen fully for the fall. Etuk was excited, Ayisire recalled. She planned to live in an apartment. Her family was worried – Etuk had lupus and was immunocompromised – but he said they trusted the university. If they are open they are likely to take the precautionary measures so that no one catches them. Ayisire remembered thinking. Her family urged her to wear a mask and gloves, and she did.
One day on campus, Etuk was on the phone with her mother and coughed violently, Ayisire said. Etuk came home. In the days that followed, she became weaker and could no longer take the stairs. She couldn't smell a diffuser filled with peppermint essential oil. At the hospital near her home, she learned she had Covid-19 and she stayed there. She hoped she'd get out on Thanksgiving, then Christmas, then New Years.
She accused herself of going back to college, Ayisire recalled. She kept apologizing. He tried to remind her, "It's not your fault. It's nobody's fault. It's God's will."
Months passed. She told Ayisire to be strong and love God. When he heard this from his younger sister, he broke it. "I'm supposed to be the one protecting you," he replied. "I'm supposed to be the one to encourage you."
She died on January 12th, weeks before her 21st birthday. To Ayisire, it felt like losing a daughter.
At the funeral, a friend praised her living spirit. Her family started donating for one Scholarship on their behalf. In January, days after her death, North Texas urged all students, faculties and staff to undergo a Covid-19 test before returning to campus. The campus made some tests mandatory for students later in the semester. Ayisire said he appreciated the step. "Lives are at stake," he says. If colleges can't test, they have to keep people online. It will make things worse. "
Almost immediately after Etuk's death, her family decided to move on from the hospital where she died. Ayisire knows that moving will not improve things immediately. It can't. Easter is coming and his sister will still be gone. Then Mother's Day, then Christmas. But the distance and the fresh start can ease the pain.
Ayisire left the old house for the last time on Tuesday at almost 4 a.m., a full day since he woke up after dreaming about his sister. The rooms are empty and he leaves the key.
(tagsToTranslate) City College of New York (t) University of Maryland in College Park (t) Benedict College (t) Coconino Community College (t) University of Washington (t) Fall Western Reserve University (t) Lynn University (t) Northeastern University (t) Valparaiso University (t) Northern Arizona University