‘Forced development’: UC Berkeley staff, students grapple with return to campus

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Deborah Chen/File
Students and staff are grappling with the transition to in-person activities.

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On an average pandemic day, Nicholas Weaver, a computer science lecturer, shuffles his cats into his carpeted library as he prepares to deliver an online lecture.

Normally, they are not allowed in the library, but the COVID-19 pandemic has bent the rules for more than just his cats. Weaver has always webcast his lectures, and he said most of the “small, intimate” class of 500 to 1,000 students seems to prefer remote learning for his classes anyway.

The loss of in-person office hours and interaction, however, has taken its toll.

“Getting that back is going to be huge,” Weaver said. “I feel like I haven’t been able to do as good of a job.”

Like Weaver, students and staff alike are grappling with the transition to in-person activities after more than a year of isolation.

Silvia Bunge, a psychology professor, worries that the pandemic has stunted students’ social development during a critical period of adolescence.

“A return to full-time school isn’t going to be a panacea,” Bunge said in an email. “The campus would benefit from consulting the incredible clinical psychologists in our department to see what can be done to ease this transition.”

UC Berkeley’s Graduate Division has prepared for the return to campus by offering a variety of mental health resources, such as skill-building classes, one-on-one counseling and workshops specifically for graduate students, according to a statement from Graduate Student Wellness Center counselor Amy Honigman.

The division also hired five mental health fellows to support graduate students, according to a statement from Lisa García Bedolla, the vice provost for graduate studies.

The experience of undergraduate students is not dissimilar to that of graduate students.

“Last year I feel like everything was just happening so fast and I was moving in slow motion,” said campus junior Talisha Skinner.

Skinner does not anticipate using University Health Services, but she hopes that professors will be as considerate during the transition out of remote learning as they were during the transition into it.

Dylan Miars, a campus senior who teaches stress management and emotional wellbeing in the ethnic studies department, emphasized the importance of resilience during the return to campus.

As an instructor, he recalls students who kept their microphone and camera off because their parents were fighting. As a student, he fears that the return to in-person instruction will give professors an excuse to return to a normal that is inaccessible for many.

“I’ve been in classes where professors made no accommodations because they held to this horrific idea of ‘It’s not Berkeley quality work,’ ” Miars said. “We need to have standards … but that doesn’t mean you lose your empathy. That doesn’t mean you lose your compassion.”

Contact Riley Cooke at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @rrileycooke.