As you’ve probably heard by now, Oberlin, like many other colleges, has decided to conduct online classes for the rest of the semester. Not being able to spend my first spring in Oberlin is disappointing, but I’ve also found that the pandemic has deepened my appreciation for academics at Oberlin.
I’ll use the two StudiOC classes I’m taking this semester as an example. For some background, Oberlin offers different StudiOC clusters every semester, and each cluster has two or three interdisciplinary classes that center around a shared theme. My cluster consists of an English class and a Comparative American Studies class, both about surveillance. Although I enjoyed these classes a lot during the first half of the semester, I have come to appreciate them even more because of the pandemic. By considering the cluster’s theme through the lens of COVID-19, my StudiOC classes have encouraged me to think more critically about surveillance and how people are employing it now (such as by tracking others’ temperature). I think that this ability to make connections between class material and everyday life is one of the best ways to learn, and it is something that my professors have really encouraged more of during this pandemic.
For example, instead of creating a museum exhibit as our StudiOC final project, which was the original assignment, we now have to write weekly posts on a blog site titled Witnessing Pandemic. Other than being required to post every Friday and relate the post somehow to coronavirus and surveillance, I have a lot of agency in choosing what to write about. I’ve found that this weekly writing assignment of around 250 words has been almost cathartic, as it allows me to observe my own reactions to coronavirus and think more deeply about how people, in general, are responding to the pandemic.
So far, I’ve written most about how our world views are changing during coronavirus and how people are ‘making meaning’ out of this. Whether creating maps of one’s home while in lockdown or taking photos of eerily empty public spaces, I think that many people, including me (and probably you!), want to represent this new world in familiar ways, such as through photography or drawing.
My StudiOC posts are, in themselves, a way to represent life during coronavirus, to try to understand specific aspects of this pandemic within a broader context and take note of my own responses. I’ve really come to appreciate writing these posts for this reason, which I think is a testament to the ability of many Oberlin professors to adapt to this frightening situation by encouraging students to connect life to academic study.
I hope that this approach to learning enables students to consider the serious weight of the pandemic and to ponder societal—and their own—responses to it. I know that it certainly has for me.