Written By: Ryan Schwach & Moises Taveras
A year ago today, the world seemed to stop. Campuses closed, restaurants and bars and clubs followed suit, and the best laid plans collapsed. Vacations were delayed, flights were cancelled, and suddenly everyone was trapped indoors. On a Wednesday a year ago, without our knowing, we took the last train we would take to Avenue H, we took our last walk down Bedford Avenue, our last bumpy ride on a James Hall elevator, and had our last run-ins with the squirrels that run the lawn, at least for the foreseeable future.
At 2:12pm, on March 11, of last year, Governor Andrew Cuomo sent a tweet closing down all CUNY and SUNY schools, effective the following week. This sent CUNY students, faculty, and administration into a spiral to figure out how we would manage the coming weeks and months. At the Vanguard, we wondered how we would put out a weekly issue. At the time, we thought we’d still be able to go back to campus to work and study, and then they closed campus along with classes. After a fractured spring break, and days needed to fully adapt to our new virtual world, we began to somewhat settle into a new normal of zoom meetings and commutes no longer than a few feet.
The world didn’t stop though. In fact, the trauma of the last year has been precisely because it didn’t stop. School didn’t close, it just shifted online. Businesses closed and then prematurely reopened countless times. Rent didn’t stop coming, though checks from our jobs and our government did. And people simply acted like there wasn’t a national emergency that threatened our existence. And the body count. The body count never stopped. Every week there seemed to be a new headline with a new round of dismal case numbers, refrigerator trucks of bodies outside Queens’ hospitals, and denialism and deflection from the one office with the power to stop this.
The last year has been a tragic one, there’s no doubt about it. It’s a year scarred to hell by injustice, violence, political unrest, and loss. Just so much preventable, avoidable loss.
At Brooklyn, we found out for certain that we would not be returning to campus for the fall, and inevitably the spring too. Some work continued on campus. Construction continued, as it always does at BC, and some lucky folks participated in hybrid courses in labs and studios on campus grounds.
Case numbers rose, fell, and shot up again, and the end of the summer saw some semblance of vibrancy return to the city before we were shuttered indoors once again. We lamented what seemed like an increased onslaught of Blackboard discussion board questions, and whole class meetings that could have been an email. Days became longer, and our eyes became permanently strained by screens.
We’re nothing if not a stubborn bunch though. We pressured the college administration into extending a grading policy that helped students whose pandemic stresses affected their studies, and halted a test proctoring program that infringed on our privacy that was already beginning to whittle away.
Plays and recitals endured despite the loss of their spaces, surviving via live streams or prerecorded performances. Clubs and groups adapted to online, keeping as much school spirit alive as we were capable of. Many even made the pivot to becoming support groups when their fellow students needed them most and resources were at an all time low.
All while rolling with the punches of a school year unlike any other before, and hopefully unlike anything to come.
Now everyone’s scrambling for vaccinations so that life can return to normal. The line of thought seems to be that if we all can treat the virus, it and the problems it caused will go away. But that’s not really how viruses or trauma work, is it? No, the effects of them linger, even if dormant, for long after you think the problem’s come and gone. As much as COVID-19 is going to be a part of our bloodstream, the long term effects of this pandemic are going to indelibly mark our lives. This is something we’re going to always live with, and someday it will become stories we tell our kids, stories of the year that we lost.
It’s hard not to feel dramatic talking like this. It’s sometimes even harder to justify that the present situation calls for it. Our generation has never faced crises like the ones that we’ve confronted. Generations before this one haven’t faced a crisis like our present one in a long time. It means that we’re consistently at war with ourselves and the unknown, and it’s really an overwhelming bout.
Desperately clinging to the promise of normalcy isn’t foolish though. A cynic would say this situation has doomed us. We’re jaded, but not quite so rough around the edges. There’s a day on the horizon where we’ll be sitting in a bar, a classroom, a movie theater, or across the table from the person who means the world to us and things won’t be the way they were. The way they have been. We need something to cling to and this more than anything seems like it. If current projections hold, we’ll be nearly, if not totally back to normal by March 11, 2022. Today is March 11, 2021 though, and while something better isn’t too far off, there’s still work to do. There always is.
So yeah, what kind of year it has been, indeed.