Recently, Gretchen Goldman, a research director for the Center for Science and Democracy, appeared on Wolf Blitzer’s CNN show. After the show aired, Goldman tweeted a candid photo of her interview set-up, with her laptop sitting atop a kitchen chair, itself stacked on top of her living room table. What you don’t see on TV is the mess of toys all around her legs. She also happens to be noticeably pants-less. The photo, titled “Just so I’m being honest,” offers a refreshingly frank portrayal of the real life of a working mother during the pandemic. This scene is painfully familiar to many college students working from home.
During any given Zoom or Blackboard Collaborate Ultra class, it’s easy to pick out distracted students. Instructors may point to technology as a reason for students’ lack of focus. After all, it’s easy to blame ubiquitous technology at our disposal. At the same time, forum apps like Slack and Unibuddy are quickly assuming the role of support groups. On the Hunter College Students Facebook page, which contains more than 9,000 members, students can exchange ideas ranging from professor recommendations to voting information. All of them are coping with the pandemic in their own way, and doing so from the safety of their homes.
On the Hunter College Students Facebook page, Nico, a student who didn’t want his last name to be shared, asks, “I’m curious as to what seemingly inane reasons negatively affect everyone’s study habits at home.” He explained that their post was inspired by a sort of cabin fever from studying at home. “As for friends, well I haven’t really been able to keep in touch as much as I want to. What with the volume of work I have right now,” Nico told The Envoy via Facebook Messenger.
The popular responses to the post reflect a universal intolerance to being cooped up at home, whether with friends or family. One student posts, “Someone is always home, so it’s never quiet enough to concentrate.” The second most popular reason is the unavoidable 24-hour news cycle, with another student posting, “My family blasting Trump in the other room… I get stressed out.” Student Corey Holliday posts in the group asking, “Does anyone else feel like this semester was a waste?”
Since there is less in-person interaction on campus, many students running clubs are working hard to boost online participation. This work is made especially difficult by the fact that many student government-funded clubs have received significantly less funding this year than usual. Students who relied on Hunter clubs to unwind are now going through withdrawals.
Before Hunter shut down in March, the Eugenio Maria de Hostos Puerto Rican and Multicultural Club was gearing up to host a 90’s themed party. Lissa Rodriguez, the club’s former vice president, describes it as “a way for students to de-stress for what would have been midterms.
That party was postponed for a short time, and then indefinitely. The club hasn’t met since, but Rodriguez manages to stay in contact with members via Facebook. “I’ve kept in touch with a lot of them because some have lost [family] members to [COVID-19], and as a former VP, I have to keep in touch,” Rodriguez says.
While many Hunter clubs are doing what they can to bridge the divide through social media, students are not limiting themselves to just Facebook to get their much-needed social interaction. In class, students are trading tags for Co-Star, an app that compares personalized horoscopes. They are sharing music playlists via Spotify or Apple Music. They’re joining Discord for video calls or live gameplay and jumping into game channels like Among Us. All these apps, and many more, allow for staying close without the danger of being close.
These virtual meeting rooms can’t replace the experience of study sessions in Shakespeare and Company, or spending the day at a nearby museum. Apps can’t replicate the smell of coffee, or replace a tour of ancient Chinese calligraphy in the Metropolitan Museum, but they can bridge the gaps. There is an endless supply of digital outlets that allow students the freedom to interact with loved ones, colleagues, new friends and old, all from the safety of home.