Zooming Through the End of the World

Photo: Yahoo

Back in March, when the University of Baltimore decided to transition from in-person to remote learning, I was optimistic. As someone who’s spent most of their teens and early-twenties glued to a computer screen, I didn’t think Zoom would be so bad. I thought it might even be a bit freeing, not having to get ready for school and drive to campus every day. UB’s decision came over spring break, and I think many of my MFA cohort members saw it a bit like an extended reprieve from campus. Most of us are introverts anyway. How bad could it be, really?

Fast forward seven months—I’ve been doing remote learning for three semesters now. I’ve been mostly out of work since March, but oddly enough I still feel like a bartender, thanks to Zoom. Every day I spend on it feels like I’m being held captive by some drunk at the bar who won’t stop talking. It forces me to nod and smile and make nice and hope that, at some point, I can slip away to the bathroom unnoticed. Zoom fatigue has settled in, and it’s not going away any time soon.

Some professors have been quite gracious about remote learning. They understand that these are unprecedented times. And yes, I did just say “unprecedented,” because like Zoom that damn phrase is also inescapable. They build breaks into class sessions, they don’t scold you for turning your camera off in case you don’t want to force others to watch you eat or be forced to have others watch you eat, they get it when you need to get up and attend to an animal or a child or a roommate, and I lump them all together because unless they get Zoom, they will interrupt you whenever they need something. 

Other professors, like one I had at the beginning of the state lockdown, are trying quite hard to pretend that we aren’t in the midst of a pandemic, that democracy isn’t collapsing around us, and that the world isn’t literally on fire (okay, WORLD may be a bit of an exaggeration, but you get it). They want your face in class and your full attention, regardless of what’s going on in or outside the walls of your dwelling. And that intensifies my apprehension of Zoom. It invites a distinct, new stressor into the one place that’s supposed to be safe from that—home. 

Allyson Waldon, a student in the MFA program, also wonders about other ramifications of Zoom learning. “We have already considered what too much screen time does to kinds’ brains, but what about adults?” Seriously though, what about us? Is it any surprise that no one wants to be on a Zoom session from 5:30-8:00pm, two, three, or more nights a week? Many students have turned to drinking during class to just get through the sessions (myself included). We just don’t have the emotional bandwidth.

“I’m tired of classes not being adapted to this eternal digital hellscape and also being forced to remain mostly on camera for two consecutive hours,” says Sierra Farrare, another MFA student. I hear her. I’m so tired of so much. And I’m tired of people who aren’t in college asking me “How’s school going?” What should I say? “It’s going great! I love staring into a screen for hours on end, several days a week, watching my cohort members watch me back while we all attempt astral projection to escape this hell that is our reality.” Look, if this all sounds a bit abrasive, I’m not sorry. I’m freaking exhausted. I’m Zoom fatigued, and so are my classmates.

Tatiana Huang is a staff writer for The Sting

COVID-19 Leads to Fewer Student Work Study Positions

The 2020 fall semester is uncharted territory for students and faculty alike at the University of Baltimore. While most students adapt to Zoom classes and remote learning, some are also adjusting to the lack of opportunities for on-campus employment. 

In past years, Federal Work Study funds were allocated for a variety of positions including those at the media lab, library, and campus store. However, one of the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic has been decreased federal funding to the university and, consequently, fewer jobs. When students left campus for spring break, few thought it would be the last time they set foot on campus for class or work. 

Abraham Rodriguez, a student staff manager at the Robert L. Bogomolny library, is one of many students affected by the campus closure. He already knew things would look different after the Spring 2020 semester when he saw numerous changes being made to work study—hours, financial award packages, and positions had been drastically reduced. 

Through the confusion of the initial campus closure and its effects on employment, the phrase “hiring freeze” was floated through some department emails, including at the library and the writing center. 

Barbara Aughenbaugh, Associate Vice President for Financial Planning and Operations at UB, explained that student hiring is not actually being frozen. Positions that can be worked remotely are still being filled, but the university will not be recruiting for on-campus positions at any point this fall. 

The university hopes to revisit and re-evaluate this for the spring, depending on whether or not students will be able to return for in-person instruction. 

Aughenbaugh also explained that typically about 25% of federal funding appropriated by the university is allocated to Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (SEOG). These grants are awarded to students with exceptional financial need who are working on their first bachelor’s degree. Funds that can’t be used for work-study positions this semester are now being diverted to provide more SEOGs. That decision was made by the university in an effort to help as many students as possible. 

Although the diverted funds may help students who qualify for the SEOG, this doesn’t provide a solution or relief for students like Abraham. The library had been Abraham’s sole employment for which he even moved closer to campus in order to work earlier hours and more shifts. He’d worked at the library since 2018 and had grown through his roles there. “I really loved working at the library, everyone was so awesome and nice to work with,” he said. “This whole thing has really affected me.” 

Tatiana Huang is a staff writer for The Sting.