March 11, 2020 was a Wednesday. The hustle and bustle of UB’s North Campus continued as classes winded down and students eagerly awaited spring break.
COVID-19, which had only recently captured the attention of people across the U.S., was slowly creeping toward the Queen City. Students began expressing concern, especially after reading a story in The Spectrum about a student who recently returned from a study abroad trip in Italy, but wasn’t required to be screened for the virus.
I was sitting on the lofted bed of my Griener Hall dorm room, furiously taking notes while watching Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s then-soon-to-be daily press conference. It had been rumored that he would make an announcement. What that announcement was, I don’t think we were ready for:
“The State University of New York and the City University of New York will implement plans to maximize distance learning and reduce in-person classes, beginning March 19, for the remainder of the Spring semester in light of the evolving novel coronavirus situation in New York,” Cuomo said.
Hundreds of U.S. colleges saw similar announcements that day, forcing millions of students to leave their campuses and return home. By Friday, UB was a ghost town.
Three hundred sixty five days later, students have returned to campus as the pandemic rages on, this time equipped with masks and hand sanitizer.
The Spectrum asked students to reflect on how 365 days in a global pandemic has affected them; here are their responses:
Elizabeth Greene, junior psychology major
“Who would’ve thought that almost a year later, we would still be in the same position? Definitely not me. While friends and family slowly but surely started to test positive, I began to reflect on my relationships and how I was more thankful than ever to have so many people in my life. COVID-19 definitely made me realize that it is very easy to take that simple statement for granted, since so many friends and families around the world were losing their loved ones everyday. Life is not something that should be taken for granted. While it is easy to get caught up in a busy lifestyle day in, day out, COVID-19 has taught me to remember that it’s important to slow down and dive deeper into things that mean the most to you, whether it be spending time with people that are important to you, binge-watching a new show, taking time for self-care, or even participating in a quiet craft at home. Utilizing this difficult and trying time that we are going through to reflect is something that I think everyone should consider.”
Isabella Koch, sophomore political science major
“COVID-19 has changed my outlook on life in mostly a negative way. When the first quarantine began in March of last year, things were hard to process and I was experiencing extreme anxiety of getting the virus and seeing loved ones get it. As someone who has struggled with severe anxiety before any of this, it was hard to deal with. Things got better as time went on and eventually I started to question whether or not things would return to normal.
My perspective on life and school has been dramatically altered as a result of the pandemic. I began to hate school and my motivation levels were decreasing every day as it was all changed to online learning. The state of our country and the world definitely altered my perspective of my life and my future plans as everything seemed to be at a standstill. I had been given the amazing opportunity to intern for the lieutenant governor and that got canceled as a result of the pandemic, life began to feel more and more pointless because of all the shutdowns.”
Ariana Ross, senior business administration major
“This pandemic has had a profound effect on my outlook on many different aspects of life. The biggest thing I realized is that there are a lot of things that I took for granted or didn’t take advantage of while I could. My grandparents are getting old and the fear of them getting sick or not being able to see them made me realize that I should’ve visited them more often, and as soon as the pandemic is over, I plan to. I feel like all of my relationships have gotten stronger since the pandemic because I had a realization that life is short and spontaneous, and I should appreciate the people in my life that have because who knows what could happen. I’m also more or less a homebody, but not being able to go out and do things made me want to take advantage of all the opportunities to go out and do things. I feel like once the pandemic is over, I’m going to be going out and doing things all the time just for the sake of going out. Though some advantages that came out of this is that I’ve learned how to cope with the stress and anxiety in ways that I never would have tried before. I’ve gotten really into meditation and walking because they help me escape the chaos, and those are things I can continue to do after all of this is over. Altogether, I think once we make it out this whole thing, we’ll all be stronger for it.”
Taigue Thurston, sophomore business administration major
“In the beginning of it all, I definitely thought that this was going to be a huge scare over nothing but a little cough/cold, but then as the news reports started rolling in, I realized how intense this was actually going to be. I recall sitting around the dorms with my friends when we got an email from the school saying that we were all going to have to go home, it was heartbreaking, especially considering we had all been saving up for a spring break trip to take in the upcoming week. In order to keep ourselves and our families safe, we all had to make the tough choice of losing our non-refundable airfare and the deposit on an Airbnb. That following Sunday, the last day of spring break, I believe it was March 15, 2020, I was one of the last kids in the dorms. I was alone in my triple, packing up all of my things to drive 6 hours back home. At home during the pandemic was insane, I remember my parents and I talking about how we have to be careful with how much food we were eating because we were unsure if we would be able to make it back out to the grocery store for a while. Additionally, my grades plummeted. I was in a very tough place about the whole thing and was unable to focus on my school work. For one of my classes, the first test we took was still in person and I got about an 85%. The next test, an online exam, I got about a 30%. ”
Emily Jimenez, junior biological sciences
“I am a Type 1 Diabetic, so since the beginning of the pandemic, I have been more cautious and worried than the average healthy person. That being said, I wouldn’t say the pandemic has had a huge impact on my college experience. It definitely made it more difficult to engage with students/professors and learn with the online format, but I have still been able to get myself involved in programs like the Biological Sciences Honors Program. I think the experience I missed out on the most this past year was volunteering/interning with animal shelters and veterinary clinics. My career goal is to be a vet and I need those experiences to become a desirable candidate to veterinary schools, but since the pandemic began most places do not want to take on new workers and risk getting their current staff sick.”
Arianna Recinos, junior geology major
“When the pandemic first started, and we all got sent home, my professors quickly adapted their syllabi, teaching approaches, and grading systems. For that first "distanced learning" semester, my grades improved. Last semester, most of my classes were still in-person; the only things that changed were the classrooms’ sanitation procedures and capacity. This semester is a little different; most of my classes are now online, and I am starting to feel the stress and lack of motivation from Zoom university that my peers have been feeling for a year now. As the coursework gets more demanding, my motivation decreases.”
Ariel June, senior political science
“With this being my last year of undergrad, I was upset that the pandemic was going to cause this year to be unlike the rest. The typical college atmosphere of my other two years was missing this year for sure. Even though there is a lot of difference this year, I don’t feel like I’m missing anything just due to the fact that I had two years of the “college experience” so I know I am lucky. I think the pandemic forced me to slow down my normally fast paced life and focus on things that are most important to me. Because I’m focusing on what is most important to me now, I am more confident in my future. I would say academically, I’ve done better since the pandemic, but I’ve also had to put in much more effort to succeed to get to that point. With school and the whole state basically shutting down, I had more time to study for my LSAT exam, time I would not normally have to spend on studying. Because the pandemic gave me more time to spend by myself, I had more time to reflect on myself and my current life plan which made me make some changes. During the pandemic, I realized that if I really want something, I just have to work for it and eventually, God willing, I can achieve it.”
Hadiya Edwards, freshman psychology
“I’ve come to a lot of realizations within myself and from other people during the pandemic. Within life, I’ve grown to appreciate it more, and so have a lot of other people. Nothing in life is guaranteed. I’ve grown to enjoy the little things every day and recognize everything that I have. However, it did take a toll on my mental health and I do believe it did for a lot of people. The pandemic has changed my approach to school as well. It seems that the difficulty and demand of everything has increased. At this point, I don’t believe I am learning, but just scrambling by to get good grades.”
Alexis Buckner-Smerina, junior interdisciplinary degree program social sciences
“Academically, I actually feel like the pandemic has helped me. Being able to catch up with work on my own time is way less stressful than having to understand topics by certain dates with the fear of moving on when you’re not ready to. I’ve come to a lot of realizations during the pandemic, such as how important it is to spend time with your loved ones. I was very close to losing my grandfather to COVID-19 and it had me thinking about all the questions I never got to ask and conversations I would never get to have. It was a miracle he pulled through and now I never take any time with him for granted. The pandemic has changed my outlook on life because I realized how important social interactions were. I’d always pass up on opportunities to hang out with my friends before quarantine and now, I just wish I could hang out with them every single day. I regret not trying to make the most out of my free time before the pandemic. As for my college experience, I don’t think I’m as unfortunate as the freshman or seniors because I have another year to make up for this one. I am upset though with the fact that I was 19 when quarantine started and I’ll be 21 in a little over a week and I’m still technically in quarantine. There isn’t much to do, and this will be the second birthday in a row where I won’t be able to celebrate with all my friends and family.”
Willber Velasquez, junior pharmacy major
“Initially, the pandemic affected me very negatively. It was just a really big change in environment for me, especially since a lot of my classes were in-person and hands-on labs. Being in person and being able to absorb the information personally to going completely remote and having the environment of home around you makes a lot of temptation easy. That did not mix well. Coming back this semester and being in Buffalo really helped a lot. The silver lining that I can pick out from the pandemic was being able to get closer to my family. I remember the summer before COVID-19, I was able to go out and really just stay out however late I wanted. It wasn’t until COVID-19 where I didn’t go out as much, I was really home with my parents and siblings. Being able to sit down and really get to know them. I know it sounds funny because you live with your family your whole life. I just never really got the opportunity to sit down and talk to them.”
Tasfia Azad, junior communications major
“It’s been a roller coaster just switching from in-person classes to straight remote. This semester was my first time having Zoom classes and I like it a little bit more. Just because it has more structure. Last semester was hectic just because everything was on my part, my time management. So just really hard because I had 18 or 19 credits and I had to manage all of that at once on my own time. One silver lining I guess is that I have so much more time to myself. I can get involved with other activities and things like that. And all that social activism was a huge thing especially after we went home in March. I feel like that was the focal point of the summer. So I was just reading up on all the different social activism that was going on. I feel like since I was in in-person class for so long, then I would work, that my life just rolled around school and work so I guess that the silver lining is that I have a little bit more time to pursue what I want to do in my free time.”
Azalia Primadita Muchransyah, Ph.D. Candidate in media studies
“[The pandemic] affected me a lot especially since I had planned to go back to my country, Indonesia, to conduct my ethnographic research and to make my documentary film there. Instead, I am stuck in Buffalo and have to do everything remotely. I can remotely direct my film in three different cities in Indonesia by hiring three small crews. Because of this, my dissertation can address more issues in different locations in Indonesia. I also get to spend more time with my husband and child. It definitely affected the college experience, especially because I am an international student and I like to go to different events on campus to get a sense of community. Nowadays, I easily get Zoom fatigue, so I try to limit my online interactions. I think this pandemic definitely opened up a lot of opportunities for us to reflect on power, injustice and inequality. Especially because I have been writing about HIV in Indonesian media ecology, I actually learned a lot more about it because people make the connections between HIV and COVID-19 in different conversations and discussions. It also pushes me as a filmmaker to question the boundaries of the traditional filmmaking process and to continue making films with the limitations that this period of time challenges us with.”
Sanskriti Singh, junior psychology and social sciences interdisciplinary major
“The pandemic has affected me both in a good and bad way academically. I have had days where I felt super motivated to study on my own time due to the flexibility of online learning. However, most days I've struggled with managing time and organizing a study schedule. Although I love being around the area and going to classes physically, I got a lot of time to spend with my family back in Ohio and Michigan and we bonded more than ever. I also feel that being around family has made me more thankful than ever and made me realize that we can get through tough times by sticking around for one another. I never thought that I would come all the way to the States and sit in my off campus housing attending all my classes online with less or absolutely no physical or social connections at some points. During the initial months of the pandemic, I felt like going back to my home country, India. However, even that was not an option due to COVID-19 closures. Being an international student, I try my best to make the best out of my American dream, whereas the pandemic limits them every day. I have made a great realization sticking throughout the pandemic regarding my life in general and school too. I think that even though I have not been able to make the most out of my college experience here at UB due to the pandemic, I've at least thrived through it and am still doing it each passing day. I have realized that sticking around your close ones during a hard time like this, makes a lot of difference and changes the outlook towards the things happening around us to a great extent. Practicing a sense of gratitude during these hard times has made me more positive than ever.”
Diana Olivares-Salazar, biomedical sciences
“I joined the National Guard last year and graduated from boot camp March 20, 2020. I remember it being the first week of the shutdown and was told that it would only last a week, two weeks, a month. I remember flying back into Buffalo having no idea what it was going to be like. When I got off at the Buffalo Airport, it was totally empty, no one was there. I was excited to start my semester with in-person classes, but I found out it was all going to be all online. For me it was discouraging, and I believe it unmotivated people.”
Sarah Peters, engineering with a concentration in data science graduate student
“It takes me much longer to get ready to do work or actually sit down and do it. Since I'm at home all the time watching lectures I don't psych myself up to do work, heck most of the time I'm just in pajama pants all day. Not to mention since I live in a duplex off-campus with roommates there's nowhere that's a ‘work’ setting and I end up just doing work in my bed which eventually leads me to fall asleep. I have a much more flexible schedule now since my professors record their zoom meetings. So if I need to spend all day working on a project or assignment I can do that knowing I can watch the lecture at a later time and not miss anything. Luckily I’m a graduate student so I’ve had most college experiences already, but I did miss out on having a lounge/study room that’s specifically for my major, and all the free coffee days that the Graduate Student Association has. I didn’t realize how much I worked off others, not even to ask for help but just to talk to other people. The classes I know people in I'm doing so much better in because I feel more at ease in that class. Also, sadly, I’ve noticed how tired professors are with zoom classes, getting agitated when people don't answer questions, seeming tired all along which ends up with them being less sympathetic/accommodating about our current situation. I’m sure countless students are doing worse in this setting and I haven’t heard from UB or any program about possible forgiveness with these past few semesters when we’re clearly not able to work to the best of our abilities right now.”
Thomas Dias, freshman philosophy major
“My grades have largely stayed the same. I think what is lost in forced concentration during class time is made up for grade wise with open book assessments and easily accessible, pre-recorded lectures and just easier assignments in general. No doubt. I’m a much better person than I was pre pandemic. I always wanted an opportunity to focus on improving myself but school had always taken up so much of my time. When the lockdowns came along I took advantage of the opportunity and read a lot of books and got involved in a lot of things online. Using zoom meant I could get involved in a lot of spaces very easily and attend multiple events per day so it really helped me get into what I liked. I certainly developed interests in a lot of new things because of the pandemic and there’s no better tool than the internet in helping people find things they’re interested in. Yeah I mean everybody’s college experience was changed this year and sure I’m missing out on some stuff. But besides a few freshman specific experiences like orientation, there’s nothing I still can’t experience post COVID-19 so I’m not worried. In fact I feel lucky that I’m in my freshman year during COVID-19 because I don’t have other years to compare it to. Upperclassmen have told me non COVID-19 times are so much better but I’m having a good time the way things are now simply because I’m in college for the first time. And I like college. Like I said before, I improved and discovered a lot about myself during COVID-19 simply because I had the “me time” to do so. It reinforced my knowledge that I thrive in isolation but of course it had me missing social gatherings with friends and family members . It certainly made me grateful about a lot of things that I feel lucky to have. To be in a comfortable house with a family I love is something that I was very happy to have during a pandemic where I’m inside all the time.”
Avery Andrews, freshman speech and hearing sciences major
“I feel that with the pandemic, it has been hard for me to stay more focused on school and enjoying learning since I am not getting the social aspect that you get from being in class. Having the social aspect of my life being on pause, I have gone out of my comfort zone to try and do things that allow me to live as normal as possible during the pandemic. I feel that because of the pandemic I have not gotten the college experience I hoped. I have not gotten to meet as many people or have gotten to do things most people look forward to in college. I have realized I need to live more in the moment and appreciate the things I have because you never know how things might change.”
Elizabeth Kalappura, occupational therapy graduate student
“I think that this pandemic and quarantining has honestly brought about so much positive change and growth in my life. I recognized that I actually had time to do things that I was interested in and took advantage of them, which I’m so happy about. I danced more, explored painting, got into jigsaw puzzles, and really bonded with my family a lot more while I was home. Being home has helped me focus on myself and learn about areas where I can still grow, which I felt like I never had time to do before because of school. I was additionally blessed and lucky enough to gain clinical experience over the summer for my program, where I learned so much about what it’s like being an occupational therapist during a pandemic.”
Yessica Vazquez, senior environmental design and architecture major
“It was difficult to change gears and learn properly with the professors. I felt like I, and many of my friends, learned many topics ourselves rather than in online classes. It was also tough to not have school libraries opened as software like GIS and Adobe Pro are free on-campus computers to use, but now we had to pay for them out of our pockets.”
Amadou Diallo, senior biological sciences major
“When the shutdown happened, I was shocked and didn't know what was going to happen. I was not in a good mental space, but it turned out more positively for me than I thought. Also, just like many people,this was one of the most life-changing experiences for me. It made me acknowledge my own self, and I started taking more care of myself. I started reading more books like “The Intelligent Investor” by Benjamin Graham and “Good to Great” by James Collins. I started finding new hobbies and passions. I didn't know it was something I needed until I did it. I also had 100% attendance in all my online classes. The shutdown has definitely made a stronger and better person.”
Campbell McDade Clay, senior theatre major
“Losing half of my junior year and all of my senior year to COVID-19 was challenging. I’ve definitely felt robbed at several points. I turned 21 last spring and had visions of going to a bar or a club, and instead I shared a bottle of wine with my parents. It was hard to be at home with my family at first, because we haven’t spent that much time together uninterrupted in years, but we eventually got the hang of it and started hiking and playing Spoons, and that was nice. I also read all of Jane Austen’s novels over quarantine, so that was fun.”
Christopher Fuentes-Frysz, sophomore linguistics with japanese language concentration
“Freshmen; like actual freshmen, don’t understand the significance of opening college back up. They don’t know what the real college experience is yet. They haven’t seen it yet. For me, it’s a great thing. For them it’s probably no big deal. They don’t know what it was before COVID-19. It’s weird to think that, but they don’t know. How open things were and freedom you had because there is not a lot of freedom right now with what we can do and how we do things. It’s like someone who never had sweets because they lived in a family of diabetics so their parents never let them have sugar. They don’t know what they’re missing so they are not going to go out looking for it.”
Kayla Sterner, Josh Ferullo, Julie Frey, Kiana Hodge, Juan C. Candelaria Vazquez, Matthew Szczepaniak, Richard Louis and Anushka Sharma contributed reporting to this story.
Reilly Mullen is the editor in chief and can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @ReillyMMullen
Reilly Mullen is the editor-in-chief at The Spectrum. She is a senior majoring in political science with a journalism certificate. She enjoys Dunkin’ iced lattes and Scrabble. A former web, features, news and managing editor, she is a columnist at heart but has covered everything from UB Football to breaking news.