Dear Washington, listen up.
In the eyes of America, college is a privilege.
The problem is that the “privilege” comes with the determinant of our mental and physical health, as well as the constant fear of our finances. As a college student myself, the burden of having to feel financially stable while maintaining a strong academic record has never felt higher, mainly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many students across the nation are in a time of confusion, financial hardship and have mentally checked out. When it comes to finances, it is well known that college students are routinely stressed. According to The National Student Financial Wellness Study, a national survey that is conducted by Ohio State University, about 71% of the 18,795 students surveyed, said that they felt financial stress on their personal finances, with 60% stating that they worry about having enough money to pay for school. This is both a reality and a personal hell for many. Not knowing if they can afford their classes, afford their dorm fees or if they have enough money for food.
The Covid-19 crisis did not make this any better. Schools were forced to transition to online learning and students were told they needed to adapt quickly. This brought a time of confusion and lack of preparedness for many of us. Would we receive a refund for our tuition? Will our grade system become more lenient? Are we going to receive some type of funds in order to pay our bills? The answer to those questions, for the most part has been NO.
See, when the Covid-19 pandemic began, Americans everywhere began to face the reality of having to stop our lives, in order to save our lives. Staying home and not spreading the virus was our only option. The majority of us obliged, and in return the American government issued out a $2.4 trillion stimulus deal that would help a majority of Americans. Each American would receive a one time $1200 check to supplement the loss of income during this time.
The check, which by the way does not nearly cover the expenses and loss during this time, began to hit the bank accounts of many this past weekend. This $1200, while small would still be something that people can get back on their feet with and many college students were anticipating the check in order to alleviate any stress they might have felt paying fees such as rent, groceries, materials needed for school, etc. Except for the fact that many college students – including myself – do not qualify for a check, due to being dependents on our parent(s) taxes, even if we pay and file taxes ourselves.
And while the Department of Education promised to issue cash grants for students as a part of the CARES act, many schools have reported that there is no clear indication which students qualify or when the money would be issued in the first place. With the constant pandering to college students and the number of empty promises made through our administration and presidential hopefuls, college students are more confused and angry than ever. How are we supposed to be the “future” of America, when the American government refuses to properly prepare us for our future?
I know that many college students have their own experiences and their own perspectives on how education pertaining to the current pandemic is being handled. I decided to reach out to three of my peers; Dri, Giselle and Aryelle, who are all in California colleges at the moment, ranging from the UC System, CSU System and the LACCD, to shine a light on their feelings about everything going on at the moment.
How has the pandemic affected your education? Has the transition from in person classes to virtual classrooms been smooth?
Aryelle (LACCD) : This pandemic has affected my education as my current academic progress has been a struggle and my future education plans have been placed on pause. Before the pandemic, I was planning to transfer in the fall to a Cal State University to finish with a BA in Sociology. This was supposed to be my last semester at my community college and so I decided to finish my time at West with a ceramics class with my mother. Unfortunately, I am now unable to finish the class on campus making it difficult to finish my projects. This transition has been extremely difficult, especially with a class like ceramics, where everything is very ‘hands-on’.
Dri (CSU): The transition was incredibly disruptive. My professors had a week to switch to online learning and then it was spring break. I feel like we should have just given instructors the two weeks to adjust and to help students get reliable access to a laptop.
Gissele (UC): The initial switch within my university happened very quickly. From one day to another we were informed that finals would be administered online, then shortly after (during finals week), we were informed that the entirety of our spring quarter would be administered remotely. I had little to no mind in focusing on finals, seeing as I have a weak immune system and was progressively getting sick during this time, I was very paranoid. Thankfully I am healthy now, I think stress was also in part why I was sick.
The transition has been interesting. I became accustomed to working a 9-5 day (including my academics) and just being on campus for 8+ hours at a time, so the transition to being indoors for most of my days has been strange. It acts as a break, a very much needed one at that, but because it is in the midst of a pandemic I have not adapted that smoothly. I find myself putting off many pre-recorded lectures, or not keeping up with my readings especially since I am back home in an environment reminiscent of toxicity for much of my life.
Do you think that your institution was prepared for something like this? Do you think they were given the right amount of time and resources from the government?
Giselle (UC): Honestly, my institution surprised me. They prioritized social distancing in making initial finals remote + acted quick in making our quarter remote. As for housing, there have been opportunities for housing grants (though they ran out in the blink of an eye). For those on campus, they offered FULL refunds for housing which I genuinely would not have thought would be an option. They also prioritized folks who might face housing insecurity, etc and are still providing dining hall services (via delivery to on-campus dorms/apartments of course).
Aryelle (LACCD): I honestly believe that my institution was not prepared for a situation like this, but did what they could with the time they were given. When my college first closed its campus, they did everything they could to best assist their students. I don’t believe the government gave them the time or resources they needed to handle this situation correctly at the start of this pandemic.
Dri (CSU): I think they tried their best in the current situation, however, there seems to be a lack of awareness that not all students have access to a working laptop all of the time, let alone wifi. My internet is so slow that almost every zoom session is interrupted or distorted by connectivity issues. Instructors were given a week to adjust, but three weeks into online learning and it seems as if we are still trying to figure things out.
With everything going on, how would you say your mental health has been because of the pandemic?
Dri (CSU): It’s been really awful. My sleep schedule is completely off because I’ve had nightmares for weeks now and I have trouble falling asleep. I often find myself crying out of nowhere because I still can’t wrap my head around the situation. I miss my friends and I’m afraid of what this means for my education going forward. My assignments are difficult to focus on and I’ve already had to ask for an extension on one assignment which is something I’ve never done before.
Giselle (UC): Truthfully, in the beginning, it was awful. I am a homebody so I do not mind the aspect of staying home, but I loaded so many responsibilities onto myself throughout the school year because that in itself was my distraction from facing any underlying emotions. So now, that shelter-in-place is the norm, I have SO much room to think and that scares me. I have a great support system though, so it has gradually been getting better or at least at a healthier balance. Also, I quit one of my jobs since I literally do not have the energy to spread myself thinner with so much anxiety in every vicinity around me. This at first, was a difficult realization but I hope to learn more about self-care and mindfulness with the time this grants me.
Aryelle (LACCD): During these past few months, I’ve been trying my best to stay sane and control my anxiety, and for the most part I have been mental stable. My emotions and mental status changes daily but I continue to control my anxiety by going on walks, listening to music and cooking.
College students often have the obligation to handle work and school at the same time. Financially do you feel a burden on your shoulders to maintain your finances during the pandemic?
Aryelle(LACCD): During this pandemic there has been a huge financial burden to keep up with my finances. I am the sole income provider for my family and it has been hard to keep up with bills, but I have been able to stay afloat.
Dri (CSU): Absolutely. My college fees and expenses for this semester are essentially the same not to mention my other bills such as rent. Because of this, I work two jobs usually about 30 hours a week however the hours have both been affected by the pandemic resulting in a decrease in my hours. I usually work a lot during the summer at multiple jobs to help save up for the next semester but I’m not sure how this will affect my income going forward.
Giselle (UC): I am lucky enough to have just enough to get by. I also “moved” back to my parents’ home for the time being so that I have that as a safety net? Which is super privileged and I acknowledge this, but I funded myself for two years now in working two jobs, and being a full-time student, etc. so I am allowing myself grace with this issue. I also calculated my last paychecks from the job I quit to ensure I can pay off the rest of my lease (ends in June), and what comes beyond that who knows. I feel for my peers who may not have the financial means to move forth in such times, and I wish the government would do more for us. Unfortunately, I grow hopeless that anything for college students will be done as the stimulus program currently is still very flawed and could be so much better.
Recently, the government put into place a two trillion dollar stimulus package, without any aid to college students that are dependents on their parents’ taxes. How do you feel about that? Do you feel like there have been enough resources for you from the government in order for you to maintain financial stability?
Giselle (UC): Angry! The college student demographic is literally working day and night with dedication in their studies to reach their definition of success and ultimately add to the global economy, so for them to be deemed invisible in such a stimulus package is disheartening. I am a “dependent” under my parents, not by my own choice, and I support myself financially (rent, food, books, etc) so who am I really depending on? MY DAMN SELF. There are so many other circumstances that can place other folks in the same or similar position. Being “dependent” basically crossed us out of a list of aid which is frustrating. Additionally, I worry about the people of color (including myself) that are always at a disadvantage when it comes to the medical system.
This issue is so much bigger than what is just now surfacing. We are not asking for a shift to socialism, we are simply asking for BASIC HUMAN DECENCY as it pertains to basic human needs. Folks with deteriorating,lower & poor socioeconomic status and health are now more than ever battling the frontier of a nation that has proven time and time again to not care for them. And for stocks to be so easily funded and “fixed”… CAPITALISM LITERALLY KILLS.
Aryelle (LACCD): I am beyond ecstatic that the government is finally doing SOMETHING to help our economy, But I think its fucking stupid for him to leave out college students when most are working while also going to school full time. Although some college students are dependents on their parents taxes, most aren’t getting a DIME from their parents for their expenses. The government is negligent with providing resources and doing the bare minimum to help us. A one time payment of $1,200 isn’t going to help the majority of Americans. Millions of Americans are out of work, unable to pay bills. This small check will barely cover the cost of a 1 bedroom apartment in Los Angeles.
Dri (CSU): I think this was a grave mistake on their part because it left a lot of young adults out to fend for themselves. They don’t qualify for the $1,200 checks and their families don’t qualify for the $500 if the student is no longer a minor. I think this shows a huge disconnect or oversight on their part because college students already carry a lot of the financial load by working part-time or even full time in some cases. This really puts further financial strain on families. Fortunately, I do qualify for the stimulus because as a former foster youth I’ve always filed as an independent, but because I’ve been on my own for so long I do have a lot of expenses to stay on top of and unfortunately the stimulus check will be taken up almost entirely by my rent and utilities.
What are your thoughts on Betsy DeVos as it pertains to her role as Secretary of Education? What do you think she needs to do during this situation?
Dri (CSU): She should be ashamed of herself for the harm she had done to public education. In an ideal world, I would say she should sell off all of her assets including her $40 million dollar yacht and donate it entirely to youth-focused mutual aid funds, but this is not a perfect world. At the very least, she should forgive student debt. We should also be working to make college FREE. This would actually stimulate the economy far greater than corporate bailouts. So many Millenials and Gen Z’ers are and will be saddled by insurmountable student debt keeping us from actually putting money into the economy in the form of home buying and such. Give us a chance to actually build a life for ourselves.
GIselle (UC): Honestly, I have not heard her name in any major headlines in terms of changes she is putting forth. This may be due to my own misinformation or she really just has not been using her power that effectively.
Aryelle (LACCD): I think Betsy Devos needs to do everything she can do with the power she was given to assist college students struggling right now for housing, financial, and health needs.
If you could say one thing to Congress right now, what would it be?
Dri (CSU): I would tell Congress that this pandemic gives us a lot more time to take a good hard look at your action/inaction in response to this crisis. Enough with the corporate greed! We need single-payer healthcare, student loan forgiveness, and affordable higher education! We’ve seen the corporate bailouts and we know the money is there!
Aryelle (LACCD): I would simply ask them to see where the average American is coming from and distribute the resources they know they have. We are all scared for ourselves and our loved ones as we don’t know what is yet to come as our government has been a shitshow, especially our unreliable, unresourceful president. We need more than just a $1,200 check from our government. We need our government to do more than just sit back and do the bare minimum like they usually do. Y’all applied for the job, now get to it.
Giselle (UC): Do better.
Please Washington, do better. Our lives are determined by your decisions. Stop these bipartisan games. We need you to focus on us, care about us and represent us in the best way possible, and so far, it seems as though you are incompetent to do so.
Frustrated College Students of America.