COVID@College: Joanna from Amherst College

By Tracy Huang, Teehan McGinness and Selin Tukel, Posted April 5th, 2021

Video by Teehan McGinness

What is your name, university, and year?

“My name is Joanna. I’m a sophomore in the class of 2023 and I go to Amherst College. I’m going to be a biochemistry major.”

What course of action has your university chosen to take regarding COVID-19? How do you feel about this?

“Amherst has a bubble implemented, meaning once you arrive at the school, no one can enter, and you can’t leave either. I think it’s a pretty smart idea to do something like that. I know that there’s actually an article I read once that compared what Amherst was doing to the NBA because they were implementing something similar, because you have a space where people for the most part will be trying to be safe about things. You know where they have been, which is just in the bubble, but also it can be a bit risky at times because you’re depending a lot on everyone else’s decisions to maintain the security of the bubble. So, I feel like you just have to have a lot of confidence in other people and trust in other people’s goodwill. For the most part, I think that it’s been going pretty well so far actually. I don’t think we’ve had any COVID scares or anything; I can’t say the same for UMass. But, I think things are going pretty good so far and I’m satisfied with the plan.”

“Things are going pretty good so far and I’m satisfied with the plan.”

What is your living situation at your university? On-campus, off-campus, staying at home? What are the safety precautions being implemented?

“I’m living in a dorm. We have something called a room group so I tried to pick certain people that I would be living with on this floor. So we’re living on this floor and it’s just one person per room. My mom thought that it was going to be doubles and then when I video called her when I got here, she was like ‘Wait, you’re by yourself?’ And I’m like, ‘Of course I’d be by myself.’ I think it would be pretty risky if I was with another person. So I’m just living by myself in my room, but with other people in the hall. Some safety precautions that are being implemented is that at first, we had to quarantine for about a week where we couldn’t really go into other people’s rooms. We [also] couldn’t really make very close contact with others just because everyone had just been moving in and [the school] wanted to make sure that no one got sick from someone else who could’ve been asymptomatic, for example. But after that, I remember the school said you can start going into other people’s rooms if you’re socially distanced and wearing masks, and also if you’re living on the same floor. So first it was that, where you can just talk to your friends and stuff but more closely. And then at some point, I think maybe at the beginning of last week which was the third week of the semester, we got permission to enter other people’s dorms that are not our own if you get access to the dorm from a friend or someone you know. So that’s kind of how things have been slowly progressing. Also there was an email sent out like a day or two ago saying that at some point if things keep going well, we might be able to have organized travel off campus so that’s going to be kind of exciting. Hopefully things could go well with that if it happens.”

How has this transition impacted your educational career? (Online, limited in-person classrooms, etc.) Will this impact your track to graduation and how has using online learning changed your educational experience? How do you feel about this?

“So, at first, last year definitely had a negative impact in my lab-based classes since I was taking two lab-based classes, Chem-161 and Bio-191. I could no longer do my labs in person, of course, so that meant that I was not learning the many new skills that I would be needing for doing more labs in the future. It was mainly just analysis-based labs. It was also a bit hard to just all of a sudden be studying from home, kind of like I had been doing in high school, and just getting my family to understand I’m busy at these times. Just because it seems like I might not be doing work or I’m not in class at the moment doesn’t mean I can just go do some other thing. There was also the duty of having to take care of the house as well, just because it’s kind of expected from me to be helping to clean and cook and do other things, but it’s a bit tough to juggle all those responsibilities with schoolwork. So, I think things were better in the fall semester. People and professors could definitely have the summer just to improve on things so I think that it was a little bit better, and also my parents kind of got the idea that this was going to be lasting a while and I have to be focused, so I would say that things got a little bit better that way. Still no in-person labs which is a bit sad, but then just being on campus (because I was allowed to return to campus via petition), I was able to return early so that I can do lab work. That really has been just helpful to me, just because I was able to do so many different things that I hadn’t been able to do during the summer when I was in my current lab through the SURF (summer undergraduate research fellowship) program. So, I think being on campus has been pretty good for me, and I know that there’s some classes that have in-person labs now as well if a person is on campus, so things are slowly becoming better. I think it was better than it was a year ago when we all had to return home.”

“I was not learning the many new skills that I would be needing.”

What has been the most difficult aspect of your school’s transition?

“I think that for me, you don’t get as much interaction with other people, so you can’t just be asking people for help whenever you need help. I think that’s the case for whether you’re off-campus or on-campus. Pre-COVID, there would just be many spontaneous interactions, and you could be studying with a group of people just collaborating on something. And now it’s a bit hard to organize that, whether you’re online or in-person, because some people of course understandably get Zoom fatigue so it’s not always the greatest thing. And then not everyone that you want to study with is in-person so it has been a bit tough, just trying to be able to reach out to people for help.”

How has COVID-19 impacted you/your family’s financial situation?

“My mom…she’s always just worked as a waitress her entire time in the United States, so with COVID, she just got really nervous about the possibility of her getting sick, just because she’s an older person. She has some health complications so she hasn’t been working very steadily since everything just started, so it has been a bit tough, which is why I’m also very fortunate for Amherst. [I’m] just grateful to be part of Amherst College because they also are providing a lot of aid that my mom definitely is making use of.”

How has COVID-19 impacted your friendships/social life at school? Extracurriculars?

“I feel like I’ve become more distant (which is very sad) from people, just because, you know, you normally would be seeing people on campus. You could just go hangout somewhere or eat dinner, [or] study together. But then also, I feel like I became closer to some friends if I just played video games with them, because that’s my main COVID activity, just playing games like multiplayer games. So I feel like there were maybe not trade offs, but friends I would normally just talk to, I couldn’t just talk to them as much. And then friends that I know are gamers, I feel like ‘Alright, let’s go!’ Also, just being on campus, I feel like I’m still able to see most of my friends. I feel like the people I would talk to in passing, I don’t talk to them at all anymore, like people I see in my class or something. But the people I would just talk to regularly, I still try to reach out to them, and even if we’re not really in the same dorm, we’ll still be talking. Although, I don’t know if I’ve met any new people during this time. I kind of have been just talking to the same usual people that I was able to meet last year. I think that for that reason, cubs are good because you can at least try to meet people that way. I know for Amherst STEM Network, we have a little icebreaker activity where we just try to interview each other, which I thought was pretty cute.

[For extracurriculars] there wasn’t really much impact, I would say, because the two extracurriculars that I’m really involved in are Amherst STEM Network and AWIS, which is the Association for Women in STEM. So for Amherst STEM Network, usually we’ll just have weekly meetings in person, and we would just do a lot of our stuff online just because it’s more convenient that way, having articles written online. Everything would just be on our Google Drive. When COVID happened, not much had changed from that aside from the fact that we’re just now meeting remotely every week. So luckily things didn’t change too much. I would say, though, something that they did change was that people used to be able to write articles about events that they would attend in person. Now the events would be just held remotely. You can still ‘attend’ the event, and you can also just email whoever is speaking at the event or in charge of the event if they would want to add a little more to what the article is going to be about. But aside from that, I don’t think there has been too much change. I also can’t say that there was a change for AWIS because I had become part of AWIS during COVID; I wasn’t part of it before. But in term of our events, that has changed because our events would always be in person so we would have things like a weekly study session which I always would go to, and then we also had a breakfast series with a lot of female professors where we would just have a breakfast with them and just talk casually, which would be a bit awkward to do during Zoom because you can’t really have cross-conversation or anything. It’s like you’re either speaking or you’re not in one conversation. So we have had to just try to accommodate that as best as we could. We tried to do breakout rooms and we also have tried to use different video sharing platforms that we think maybe could be more conducive to what regular interactions would be like with a full conversation here, another one there. It’s been a bit weird trying to hold events that would normally be in-person strictly online. But we hope to be able to have at least a weekly study session in-person if things start to continue going in a positive direction.”

Do you see the situation at your university changing in the near future?

I think it’s changing for the good. Honestly, with that email we got yesterday or the day before, I was just like ‘Wow, this was totally unexpected.’ The idea of even being able to travel off campus hadn’t even occurred to me. I’m happy enough just being on campus, honestly. It would be nice to go somewhere else, of course everyone would be thinking that, but it wasn’t something I was needing, I guess. So I think things are looking positive and hopefully that email has given people motivation to just try to stay in line and just continue to be good and responsible. And also the fact that we have more people on campus this semester and nothing has really happened, nothing big, is also a good sign to me.

“I feel like I’ve become more distant.”

What would you recommend for students who are struggling to adjust to this new educational experience? Do you have any other personal stories you would like to share?

“I think that if you’re remote, it’s good to try to maybe set up a schedule with friends for talking. I know that I had something I kind of would always push for called Minecraft Fridays, so I’d be like ‘Hey guys, wanna play Minecraft?’ because everyone else was on-campus and I was the only one at home. Just try to figure out ways to connect like that. I know it’s a bit unfortunate though, because if you’re not a gamer in your heart, then it’s a bit tough to do it, but if you are like I am, then you can totally go for it! Otherwise, maybe you can think of different kinds of activities to do online. Maybe doing quizzes or doing drawings together, kind of cool stuff like that. I know that for the Carter lab when I was in SURF, we would do our lab meetings on Mondays, but also we were encouraged to go on walks at the same time. It’s just by yourself, not anywhere public per se, but just going on a nice walk so you’re not just talking to people facing a screen but kind of having to walk, which is nice. For people on-campus, I know sometimes there’s in-person events so if you’re trying to meet people, it could be good to go to one of those events. If it’s something that you want to go to and other people are wanting to go to it, you guys already have something in common that you can just talk about. So that would be a pretty good experience. And I think that for both groups, you can do clubs because I know clubs are just accommodating people both on and off-campus. There’s different opportunities for both, and for people in both groups, they are best-suited for different kinds of opportunities. Those are just some thoughts.”

If you are interested in sharing your story, please contact Selin Tukel ( for more details.”