One Student. One Story. #ONEUSF
By Elysa Goldberg
If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught me anything, it has been how much I love the University of South Florida community. Its unique camaraderie, intimacy and diversity attracts many students, like myself, to USF. Now, three months absent of these defining interpersonal aspects, I reflect on my experience as a USF student during the COVID-19 pandemic.
I spent the first two months of my senior year like any USF student would: studying with friends in the Library, grabbing lunch in the Marshall Student Center, burning off some steam at Campus Recreation and attending student organization meetings.
That all changed on Wednesday, March 11 when President Currall sent an email notifying students, staff and faculty that classes would transition to remote instruction for two weeks following spring break. That night I went to bed in my residence hall, and the next morning I drove three and a half hours home to Broward County with only a few of my belongings. At the time, I did not know I would not return for the rest of the spring semester.
However, I am lucky that I could even return home. My friend and former colleague, Jennifer Drew-Bear ’20 shared with me that international students’ immigration status can be affected if they return home, putting their degrees in danger.
“I thought about going home, but that was not an option, because if I could not get back, I could lose my immigration status and the opportunity to get a job in the United States,” says Drew-Bear. “I call and text my family, but it is just not the same.”
Drew-Bear graduated from USF this past spring with a Bachelor of Science in Cell and Molecular Biology, but has raised concerns about entering the job market during the pandemic.
“Entering the job market is definitely scary considering budget cuts. I’m scared of long wait times to process paperwork affecting my job offers. This pandemic has really made me uncertain about my next steps,” says Drew-Bear.
As a current second-semester senior, I am also worried about the current state of the job market. When classes and work went remote, I knew I had to use the situation as an opportunity to excel in my classes and gain as much experience as I could at work. But to be honest, adapting to remotely instructed classes was difficult.
The hustle-and-bustle of a 30,000-student campus was transformed to the solitude of my house with the company of only my mother, father and sister. No library, no Marshall Student Center, no recreation center and no on-campus student organization meetings. Communicating with my professors, classmates and friends through a computer screen was no match to the dynamic USF community.
For Daveed Castellano, president of the Trans+ Student Union, continuing to hold meetings during remote instruction was very important.
“We focused primarily on providing a safe and comfortable space for our members, as this pandemic has forced many of them into uncomfortable situations at home,” says Castellano. “If we are able to provide a sense of community, without being physically present, and a sense of safety for even just a moment, then we have done our job.”
For students, being away from campus can be very difficult. Like many people who were under stay in place orders, I became extremely jaded and lonely. These feelings escalated as my days became more uniform. I would wake up, attend virtual classes, work remotely, take a short neighborhood walk, eat dinner, go to bed and repeat the very next day.
My experience during the COVID-19 pandemic has not been all negative, however. From playing hours-long board game marathons with my family, to celebrating my friends’ accomplishments from afar as their name appeared in the spring 2020 commencement ceremony, there are memories from this time I will cherish forever.
Yet, this made me realize my privilege. My loneliness “problems” and ability to spend time with my family is not the same experience the thousands of people who are out of work or need to work to make ends meet are having – especially the health care workers fighting the COVID-19 pandemic on the frontlines.
Although I am currently 170 miles away from USF, in a way, I have never felt closer. Since President Currall’s email on March 11, I have witnessed the generosity of USF students, staff, faculty, alumni and friends as #OneUSF. Just recently, the university initiated the month-long #BullsUnited in Action campaign. Seeing the USF community come together to support the various HerdFunder projects is a true testament to the university’s benevolent nature.
During this time, we all have a need and we all have ways to support others. If you are able, please consider making a gift to any of the #BullsUnited in Action HerdFunder projects and thank you to all who have. It is because of you that upon returning to USF, our community will be truly united.
Elysa Goldberg is a senior at the University of South Florida studying Integrated Public Relations & Advertising. She is a Student Communications Assistant for the USF Foundation.