A technology averse drifter’s take on a virtual university

By Georgia Valdes, Feb. 2, 2021

Five years ago, I had had enough. Two years of school under my belt and still no clue what it was for. So, I left. 

My family tried to dissuade me, but I accepted a position as a housekeeper as far from South Florida, as far from them, as possible. 

Grant Grove sitting between Kings Canyon National Forest and Sequoia National Forest in California had no cell reception and no Wi-Fi except for down the hill and around the corner in the hotel lobby. Even then it was sparse. I loved it. 

I discovered that choosing when to connect was an absolute chimera. I felt free. Taking the walk through the cold toward the hearth to make a phone call allowed me to hear myself first.  

There was no more anxiously scrolling through Instagram. No intrusive text messages waking me up. No late grade notifications interrupting lunch.  

Still, I always knew the experience was a temporary reprieve, and I returned to civilization thankful for the clear head and fresh start. Channeling Hestia, I was ready to surmount anything.  

Of course, this was prepandemic 

At first, when California issued the stay-at-home orders, I balked at anyone ignoring the suggestion 

“How hard is it to be alone?”  

Now, eyes fried from the screen, I email my family to join me on Zoom. Equally, I do not judge them harshly for choosing to stay offline. My father working as an operations manager at one university and my stepmother a registered nurse teaching a licensed vocational nurse course at another.   

Beth McMurtrie, senior writer for The Chronicle of Higher Education, wrote, “Burnout is a problem in academia even in the best of times.” 

Fall was hell, to say the least and, by this point, I can practically smell the Sequoia trees from my desk. 

It has finally hit me how backward this situation has become. I thought I was strong and independent in my sequestration. That my time in seclusion was a badge of honor. That I had earned the resolve to pursue something as the rambler of the troupe.  

I feel more disheartened than I have ever been. I choke up hearing my father’s voice over the phone. The cough drops my mother sent me taste like Halloween candy in my mouth. 

I recognize the dangers of constantly being plugged in, but COVID-19 has forced me to stay online, and it stands against everything I promised for myself when I returned to academia.   

Chained, I am one year away from finishing these degrees. The only reprieve is when I remember the crunch of snow hiking in the early mornings. 

As college dropout rates climb, I feel for everyone that is quitting. I understand the 500 Broncos who almost didn’t register for the 2021 spring term at Cal Poly Pomona. 

In a September 2020 study on the pandemic’s effects on depression rates in the United States, researchers compared a survey of 1,441 folk’s responses during the pandemic to 5,056 participants pre-pandemic and found that reports of depressive symptoms tripled due to COVID.  

It hurts trying to comprehend everything while fighting the urge to know nothing. Our therapists telling us to take a break while the world breaks. 

The only thing I cling on to is the idea that my peers and I can stop the train wreck. We did not come back to school to stand by. Maybe that’s optimistic, but with the presidential election behind us, has it become more possible? 

Ultimately, this privilege in access to higher education allows us to bring better to others. How can we hope to make sure something like this pandemic is handled correctly in the future without pushing through these breakout rooms?  

So, while I want to throw my computer out a window and climb El Capitan without a rope, I write this hoping that whoever reading will also keep faith that even though these screens seem inescapable, there is better around the corner.  

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