Advice for First Year Students at UW – Pandemic Edition

I’m no expert on surviving online classes let alone the coronavirus. By the time that pandemic hit, I barely started writing my Honours thesis, and I knew I needed more structure to fill my free time and maintain motivation. It worked out well. I was able to co-create a wonderful (virtual) community with Indigenous graduate and undergraduate peers, and completed my 90-page thesis in time for (virtual) commencement. So, I hope you can gather from this anecdote the fact that my experiences with online classes are incommensurable with my peers’—and that my peers’ experiences are incommensurable with each other.

Let me explain further. Recently, there have been a string of class action lawsuits against universities alleging that universities continue to charge students for full tuition and housing despite the sudden movement to online classes. In the most recent newsworthy lawsuit, University of Michigan vehemently held firm on its decision to charge full tuition for students during the pandemic, saying it is not obligated to refund students for the move to online classes. I think that s*** is wild.

There are lots of emotions, complexities, and individual circumstances that are worth considering in terms of the merit of U-M’s statement. For instance, there are students at almost every university who work 40-hour weeks to provide for family and/or pay their own tuition. Because some of those students have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, they are understandingly facing difficulties with the loss of in-person instruction and the on-campus experiences. Then, there are students who face real barriers to online instruction (i.e. lack of Internet access; childcare obligations) that unnecessarily lead to long term academic and/or professional harms. On the other hand, it can be argued that both sides of the conflict—students and university administration—reduce the intrinsic value of a college education to a monetary figure that even to me remains peculiar yet contested. I’m ultimately in no position to decide on the merits of the U-M lawsuit or any others for that matter. What is clear, however, is that change is difficult for everyone in every context.

First-year students, if you decided to begin your UW education this fall, congratulations. But you’re likely wondering: Is going to UW at this time going to be worth it? That’s a very valid question to have, and one that will likely have no straightforward answer for some time despite University administration saying otherwise. I’ll pile on it though and encourage you to think through another question: Can I use my experiences at UW this year to enact meaningful social change? Again, I’m not advocating for straightforward answers. I’m arguing for a more nuanced and creative approach to these issues.

If there are lessons that we can take away from the pandemic as well as the current civil rights movement, it’s that (barring financial and structural barriers to access) the value of a college education is beyond you, the student. For Indigenous students, family remains an important motivating factor for starting and finishing higher ed. For others, going to class during the pandemic was an opportune time to bring forth and address inequities in U.S. public K-12 education. For me, staying at UW gave me a chance to grow and learn how to build a thoughtful community with my peers online. The point is, having a world-class education that is unmatched by most other public universities in North America is less important than what you decide to make of your educational experiences, and the impact your education will have on your communities.

Now, I understand that I click-baited you by having “Advice” in the title of my blog post. After all, that’s what you’re looking for right? As you might have gathered from my prose so far, I don’t have fast and hard advice for you—other than don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for help, of course. I’m a trained peer educator though, so I know about what resources you should be taking advantage of during your first year at UW. We’ll go over what one instructor calls “Basic Needs” resources all students should know, then move on to resources that are specific to minoritized student communities.

Basic Needs

Any student who has difficulty affording groceries or accessing sufficient food to eat every day, lacks a safe and stable place to live, or experiences physical, emotional, or mental health issues, and believes this may affect their performance in the course, is urged to contact UW Undergraduate Advising, the Educational Opportunity Program, or their department or major advisor and to access the resources below. It is worth checking out each of these offices to learn about how they have adapted their services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For minoritized students

ASUW Student Community Commissions

Click to learn more about the RSOs these commissions serve:

And that’s about it. Take it easy everyone.

ODESZA – A Moment Apart (Acoustic version)

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