It feels like the COVID-19 pandemic has split the UC Berkeley student population into two distinct groups: those living on campus and those living at home.
Students staying on campus are experiencing the semester very differently from those who are not. “I miss being able to text someone and then go out and get a burger,” said Joey Lee, a biological chemistry major who stayed home for his senior year.
Meanwhile, Shreejal Luitel, a freshman living on campus, has had a somewhat different experience. “Fortunately, for me, I’m on campus, so I still get daily interactions,” he said. However, even students living in the residence halls — who are allowed to treat their floormates as their household and “get a burger” — still struggle.
Because of COVID-19, students aren’t able to have a traditional college experience. In the residence halls, students have the opportunity to interact with their peers in-person, but only the ones in their social bubble.
“I didn’t come in really expecting anything in specific, just general hope and excitement. But it’s been okay,” said Maura Cruz, a freshman living in the residence halls. She also notes that the in-person experience “differs from person to person.”
Samantha Tapia, like Cruz, is a freshman, but only moved into the residence halls for the spring semester. She has also been following the dorming policies and safety guidelines and shares Cruz’s sentiment.
“I feel like everyone just wants to meet new faces and connect on another level, but this level of security makes it kind of scary to open up,” said Tapia. “When I was online, I felt like I couldn’t interact with people. Everyone was in their own world. But now, in person, you want to meet people, but you feel like you’re breaking rules just by hanging out.”
Although the quarantine restrictions make it difficult for students on campus to hang out at ease, students staying at home face a different set of barriers. Daniel Gushchyan, for example, can’t interact with Berkeley students in person. Much like Tapia, who had her first fall semester online, Gushchyan experienced online classes as being unable to replicate an on-campus experience. He said, “those micro-socializations and micro-conversations you have really add up and add to the quality of life.”
As college students, both in-person and at-home groups share a higher vulnerability to mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety or loneliness, which is only compounded by the increased social isolation students are experiencing due to pandemic. In response to UC Berkeley’s most recent pulse survey, 35% of responses from undergraduate students included signs of major depressive disorder, while 41% showed signs of anxiety disorder.
Social distancing and lockdowns have also had very tangible, negative effects on how students’ days are structured. A Texas A&M University study showed that 168 out of 195 students reported disruptions in their sleep patterns. Students at UC Berkeley are experiencing similar sleep issues.
“Sometimes I go to bed at 10 in the morning,” Luitel said. The lack of structure, brought on by a lack of activities as well as classes that are often asynchronous and can be attended without leaving bed are what encourage these unusual sleeping patterns. Days can feel endless and keep spiraling onto the next. Cruz said it best: “time doesn’t feel real anymore.”
Students not only have to grapple with getting sufficient sleep at healthy times, but they also have to study, read and complete assignments while doing their best to stay motivated. Many students are struggling with the pacing and speed of life under quarantine. As Gushchyan explains,“There is no clear marker of when I should stop studying, so essentially, it’s very easy to kind of over study, and that negatively affects my performance and health.” Cruz describes this state as constantly “just trying to float by.”
In addition, 36% of Berkeley undergraduates and 26% of graduates reported feeling burnt out by Zoom almost every day in the past week, and are frustrated by having to attend school online. “I could essentially be getting the same education on Khan Academy … it puts a strain on my mental health because I feel like I’m spending money and time on my classes,” Luitel said.
Over time, students have become more comfortable with online schooling — the percentages of students reporting symptoms of depression or anxiety in the most recent pulse survey were lower than previous surveys. Some students have picked up ways to cope with lockdown and keep up with academic work. “I think I’ve been able to counter that feeling of time going by quickly with organization,” Gushchyan said.
In case you find yourself struggling, ways to healthily cope with the stress of the pandemic and social distancing can include finding ways to safely interact with friends and frequently checking up on them. Taking care of your body, such as by doing stretches, or safely exercising is also important. Eating balanced meals and keeping good sleep hygiene have also proven helpful.
As hard as living and working through a global pandemic is, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Vaccinations are underway, and UC Berkeley is planning to return to in-person instruction in fall 2021.
Lee, although still stuck at home, is hopeful. “It will be interesting to see where the class of 2021 will end up. I’m looking forward to 10 years in the future after COVID has passed … looking forward to the future.”