In all honesty, having Covid derail my senior year wasn’t a fun experience. No prom, no traditional graduation, no parting ceremony- nothing. My motivation dwindled, my anxiety skyrocketed, and keeping up appearances was no longer a priority. I was left with myself, and that was petrifying. Although the majority of my anticipation for college was rooted in excitement, the potential melancholy of the situation made my bones ache. What if I couldn’t have a dorm experience? What if I couldn’t make friends due to the social restrictions? What if the pandemic only inhibited my motivation even further?
As the Hip Hop President of Dillard University, Mr. Walter M. Kimbrough, put it, we are most definitely living in a different world. Of course, he was referring to the 1987 American Sitcom spinoff of “The Cosby Show”, “A Different World”, which followed Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet) and her misadventures at an HBCU. Despite the era of its release, the show remains a staple in black media, and in my own experience, heavily contributed to the idyllic expectations I had for college. The naivete of buying into a perfectly progressive, bombtastic, academically breezy, and party filled fantasy isn’t lost on me, but I couldn’t help it. The billion dollar industry of higher education has an illustrious reputation that precedes it, even in knowing I’ll probably be in debt when I graduate. Especially in America, university is heavily romanticized as a way to discover yourself and jet set your career, even though job security after college is no longer definite. Regardless, everything I could have ever predicted or hoped for wouldn’t have prepared me for going to school during a pandemic.
I had a specific move-in appointment time, where I was only allowed the assistance of two family members, and of course, wearing a mask is absolutely mandatory. My schedule consists of a hybrid of socially distanced in person classes, and classes that are online. Some teachers have even opted to have their classes outside to mitigate the risks even further. There are no classes on Fridays to allow the campus to be thoroughly cleaned, and we have staggered meal times, designed to help avoid high traffic in the cafeteria. Amidst an already difficult transition, the social aspect of university has also been adapted.
What would’ve been a week of close knit events called SOAR Week (which stands for Scholarships, Opportunity, Accountability, and Responsibility) has been transformed into a schedule of socially distanced events- The Welcome Bash to learn new chants, The Trap Spelling Bee featuring Louisiana slang, and my personal favorite: Arts and Crafts night. The events took place across the entire campus, and if possible, outside so that there was plenty of room to socially-distance ourselves and get a grip on navigating our new home.
Additionally, the more informational aspect of SOAR Week was almost entirely virtual. We were given a group number based on our majors (mine is Film if you’re wondering), then presented with lectures via Zoom regarding varying topics. These topics included not only Covid safety precautions but dove into the culture of being at an HBCU, managing our diets, mental health, the proper way to regard LGBTQ+ students, and networking advice from upperclassmen.
These changes were quite successful, having now already seen how much it’s helped me in my first week alone, but I was still quite nervous to officially dive into my adulthood. Well, as I’m not one to usually look for signs, mother nature (or maybe God herself) still found a way to tell me everything was going to be okay: I was taking a morning stroll in The Avenue of the Oaks, summer sun still piercing through the mist of rain sprinkling over the campus. The sidewalk reflected the most beautiful golden light, filtering through the translucency of my umbrella like a painting. As I continued to walk, grateful for the solace, I knew that this new normal was just that: a new normal. And the navigation of my future will be an experience that is uniquely my own.