I was excited to go to Joshua Tree, California, for spring break, but the coronavirus outbreak canceled the trip and washed the experiences of a semester away from me and many others.
On February 19, I learned that the Univeristy of Connecticut was going to let out until March 5. Assuming that I would be home for a week or two, I packed lightly, bringing my toothbrush, medication, and a week of clothes.
It was difficult to adjust to the new, harsh reality when I realized that I would not be returning to campus for the rest of the semester. I was no longer able to go rock climbing, star gazing, ask tough questions to my economics teachers, eat UConn’s dairy bar ice cream or, most importantly, have spirited debates with my friends together in our dorm rooms.
All the organizations that I was involved in ceased activity after the campus closed. The Philosophy Society, of which I was the treasurer, stopped online meetings soon after we went home. The Young Americans for Liberty chapter’s discussion dropped off as people hunkered down to start studying online. The general interest groups that I attended began to prune meetings. Soon, all collegiate social interaction disappeared altogether.
By losing my affiliations and the people associated with them, I felt very alone. The despondency and fear created by the coronavirus resulted in a half-hearted effort to keep friendships afloat. Ironically, this was during a time of nearly infinite leisure, but much of my cohort, including myself, lost the social energy needed to maintain relationships as the normal flow of life was disrupted. I kept thinking of Kanye West’s surprisingly resonant line, “I’m all dressed up with nowhere to go.”
My temporary coping mechanism, jellybeans, only managed to keep me happy sometimes. Some nights, I stared out at the cloudy sky and wondered what the future would look like after coronavirus. This has been a wholly unique year, bizarre and liminal, and even imagining a coherent future or a return to normalcy seemed impossible.
I needed to create something or at least find something to look forward to. I applied to several internships (one of which was ACTA) and wrote a biweekly column for my campus paper. I had few obligations other than schoolwork, so I used the time that I would normally have spent in club meetings to embark upon new intellectual adventures. My innate curiosity provided me with pathways to pursue; I wrote about deplatforming, corresponded with the former head of the ACLU, studied hereditary intelligence, and read the polemics of sex workers.
Despite going through my own cultural renaissance, I felt academically adrift. I tried to take the Zoom classes seriously, but the low attendance and unpresonsiveness of the other students left me uninspired. In most of my classes, I was the only student who asked questions, as many of my peers had checked out academically. And my professors were visibly confused by the technology, class after class. A strange assortment of beeps and the amalgamation of different learning platforms was exhausting. The group projects that were assigned were hard to coordinate, often resulting in a mad-dash to complete a project two days before it was due. I still found my literature classes appealing, however, and I enjoyed understanding books from different perspectives. Sitting on my porch in mid-April was a perfect setting to read some Jewish fiction and discuss the importance of subtext in Jewish-American wit.
Despite my frustration, I feel a profound sense of gratitude, too, although I would like to return to campus as soon as possible. My dog is getting old, my sister is growing up, and my grandparents are aging. I am grateful that I was given the chance to spend time with my dog during his golden years and spend more time with my family. Being back home allows me to reflect upon how lucky I am to have a loving family, a stable food supply, and a stable living situation to return to.
Isadore Johnson is a communications intern at ACTA and a rising junior at the University of Connecticut.
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