Lessons from Social Distancing: Introduction
May 1, 2020, marks the beginning of the end of social distancing in Ohio. While social distancing will continue for some time, businesses will open, people will begin to emerge like butterflies from a chrysalis. The trial of coronavirus isn’t over here. The struggle to combat the spread, and the struggle to fight the shutdown, will precede as a new form of “normal.”
Since I arrived home on March 15, I’ve been amazed by how much imagination and cooperation this new normal has required. I’ve also been surprised by the speed at which people have decided to help others. Although I believe that people can, and will, help people, seeing it in praxis has brought it into a more explicit focus in my life.
May 1, 2020, is also my second anniversary of choosing Oberlin College.
Attending Oberlin College was a dream of mine since I was in eighth grade. I heard about Oberlin in the pages of a historical fiction book and have loved it ever since. However, nothing could have prepared me for the real Oberlin College. The classes, the campus, the classmates, and the community are more beautiful and more complex than I could’ve ever imagined. If someone told me about Oberlin’s impact on my life two years ago, I don’t think I would’ve believed them. Now, halfway through my college education, I still stand by my choice of Oberlin College.
To be honest, the choice hasn’t always been easy. Oberlin demands a lot of its students— and its students require a lot of Oberlin. I think that the expectations and rigor of Oberlin College come, in part, from the profound belief many people have in the lessons we learn here inside and outside of the classroom.
When Oberlin was faced with closing for the pandemic, we all faced many unexpected situations. For some, this time has been particularly hard. The uncertainty and potential threats to students’ safety were overwhelming. At the beginning of the social distancing order in Ohio, I wasn’t sure if it would all work out. After all, how could the Oberlin I knew exist in an age of social distancing? I doubted that I’d have access to the lessons I was learning with my community. I doubted that I would feel connected to anyone except my family and myself.
To my surprise, this couldn’t have been further from the truth. Oberlin College has continued to teach me through this time of social distance, reminding me of how close we all actually are. The lessons I’ve learned in this time will continue to influence me for the rest of my life. This blog post is the first of a series focusing on the lessons I’ve learned from my community members and classes. I hope that as I reflect on my experiences, I can give you a glimpse of the Oberlin I know and love. This year has been one of accelerated growth for me, and it wouldn’t have been the same without Oberlin.
Part 1 of the Lessons series will focus on the community connections built during the last week on campus and spring break. The last week was a particularly emotional time for a lot of Obies. Like many students, we thought we had more time to prepare and say goodbye. While we had the chance to focus only on ourselves, I saw how so many people tried to help one another. In particular, I will concentrate on how my dorm, Afrikan Heritage House, packed and said goodbye. The generosity and determination to stay in touch (which continues even now!) showed me that I had found my campus community.
Part 2 will explain how digital classes have enhanced some aspects of my education, including forcing me into a more regular writing practice. Many of my classes were best suited for in-person instruction. However, my innovative professors and classmates didn’t let that stop us. Together, we tried to build a plan that would work for the maximum number of students while still remaining true to the spirit of an Oberlin College education. In the classes I decided to take this semester, this often meant learning ways to communicate over the internet that go beyond chatting on Zoom or completing assignments. Personal accountability was necessary, but our collective accountability to each other stood out to me. In one class, in particular, I found myself in a supportive team that I couldn’t have gotten through social distancing without.
Part 3 will show what I’ve learned from my courses since I left Oberlin. While I can’t cover everything I’ve learned, I can cover the lessons that have been the most impactful for me. I hope that these lessons can help show future Obies the variety of knowledge available at Oberlin College. I am convinced, just as I was my first year, that Oberlin College has or had a class about almost everything. If not, then you can create one! Oberlin fueled the continuation of my intellectual curiosity away from campus. I know I will be ready to return in the fall.
Last but not least, Part 4 will reflect on the growth I’ve seen in myself over this period of social distancing. The transition away from Oberlin presented me with many challenges. However, I believe that I became a better student and person in the process.
I look forward to going on this digital journey through time. I hope that you’ll join me.