Editor’s note: due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, Boston College has moved all classes online and sent students home for the semester. The BC Law Impact blog has suspended its normal posting schedule, and bloggers are now focused on writing about the impact of the shutdown and the current state of the world on their academic and social experiences as law students. We are all in this together; let’s find our way through together.
The day after spring break, when the name “coronavirus” was barely on my radar, I received an email that my ballet classes were cancelled for the rest of the semester. “This is such an overreaction,” I thought, “hopefully I can get my money back.” I was disappointed because dance had been one creative outlet I’d relied on during tough academic semesters. I thought that as young and healthy dancers we could have easily worn masks or broken the class into smaller groups to limit the spread of germs. But I knew those in charge simply wanted to protect us from the spreading virus, so I comforted myself with “better safe than sorry.”
I heard “coronavirus” again the next day when my law school professors gently warned students that classes may be moved online if things get worse. “That seems extreme. Should that really be the first step?” I asked a classmate who then joked that we should have extended our spring vacation. Meanwhile the apocalyptic headlines rolled in: “Massachusetts Governor Declares State of Emergency,” “U.S. Cases of Coronavirus Surpass 1,000,” “Prepare for the Inevitable.” Facebook and Instagram posts from individuals pleading with people to “wash their hands” (people needed a reminder?!) and to “stay home if sick” (wise words) saturated my news feeds. But still, I was in denial of how serious the situation was. It had to mainly be media dramatization, right? BC would never cancel classes – certainly not for the whole semester.
On March 11th, I unknowingly attended the final day of classes for my entire academic career. In-person classes from March 12th through the end of the semester were suspended. Many people may think that when an email for cancelled classes is discharged, students would rejoice. I, however, felt angry and blindsided. Looking back, my anger was absolutely selfish. At that moment I was much less an upstanding citizen and more a toddler who had just had a toy taken from her. As a third-year student, I felt the blow of having every law school event cancelled in my final semester. I had been looking forward to “law prom,” winning a championship mug with my law school IM hockey team, and all of the extracurricular events leading up to graduation. I wanted to spend time with my friends and my professors. As a self-proclaimed luddite I worried about how much I would glean from online classes and I saw my tuition dollars being washed down the drain. Mostly I feared that a cancelled graduation would soon follow. I would unceremoniously receive my coveted law school diploma in a grungy mailbox, and my family and friends would not be able to share in a milestone special to me.
I consoled myself with the fact that I was extremely lucky to have online education as an option (and blessed to even be in a position to earn a law degree in the first place), a job I enjoyed, my health, and my family and friends. And as I stepped onto the main campus the next day to teach aerobics at the BC gym I felt guilty for my anger. Undergraduate seniors were in tears and students were hurriedly packing their belongings. While my semester had been upended, the undergraduates had to move out of dorm rooms on top of everything else. It made me sick to my stomach thinking about students who might have entirely emptied their financial reserves to attend college or might not have a place to go in the middle of a semester when forced to leave their housing.
Five minutes after my aerobics class ended I essentially lost my job. Another coronavirus subject line email informed me that all fitness classes were cancelled for the remainder of the semester (expected but unhappy news). I sat in my car for ten minutes and tamped down my urge to cry. So many people had it much worse than I did. About one third of my friends are performers who all just lost their full-time jobs due to show closures. Additionally, the livelihoods of too many people around the world are now threatened because many individuals can’t “just take time off of work.”
Soon more closures rolled in. Schools, restaurants, gyms, country borders shut down in a disconcerting ripple. Each institution and business anxiously watched officials for cues. On the 15th the governor restricted gatherings to 25 people. Shut downs surged. Subsequently I found myself locked alone in my tiny apartment without my usual outlets for anxiety-relief.
While I still hoped the closures were an overreaction, I realized the gravity of the pandemic. From what I understand, social distancing mitigates damage by reducing the opportunities for individual coronavirus contact and therefore reduces the speed of spread. This protects those at high-risk for viral infections (primarily the elderly and those with underlying conditions) as well as presently healthy individuals. And while I could easily gamble with my own life, I would never want to spread the virus to anyone else. I am especially worried about my grandmother who lives in a nursing home in Washington state, and my father who is a doctor in Colorado.
No matter how necessary, the extreme measures being taken all around the world to contain this virus have brought about a mass hysteria. Understandably, many people are worried about contracting coronavirus. We have all seen an increase in individuals wearing masks around the city and noticed barren store shelves resulting from panicked buying (why toilet paper has been deemed a “necessity” I will never understand). I was in high school during the 2008 financial crisis, so I am waiting with bated breath to see how the economy will react to the current situation. What kind of environment will we be graduating into? I should wear a blood-pressure cuff.
In light of my increasing anxiety and the ominous energy around Boston, I have found myself replaying words my dad used to tell my brother and me while backpacking in the mountains: “panic kills” (a mutation of “cotton kills” for the real outdoorsmen). While this phrase is not actually true in all respects, and I am sure there is some actual evolutionary purpose to panicking, it should be taken to mean that a calm and rational approach to a situation may be to your advantage. I feel more in control when I break down a current crisis into more digestible bits or take a step back and form a plan of attack for potential future situations. What would I do if I got sick? What would I pack if I had to leave the city? How would I stretch my last dollar in an emergency?
Additionally, I have been taking comfort in the stories from past generations. My grandmother was a teenager in Latvia during World War II and ended up abandoning her entire life to flee to the United States. She is also one of the most inspiring, positive and caring people I know. Throughout history we all have been plagued with great uncertainty and adversity. However, my grandmother and many others are proof that humans are resilient creatures. So, despite all the doom, gloom and my personal frustrations with the coronavirus pandemic, a real positive to focus on is that humans have made it through all of these past unforeseen tribulations.
We are stronger than we think.
Erika Craven is a third-year student at BC Law. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.