April 30, 2020

BARAN | The Silver Lining to Fall 2020

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The COVID-19 pandemic has already upended our lives at Cornell and beyond. It will undoubtedly continue to do so into the fall. The question Cornell students are yearning to know is: How different will this fall be for us? We are almost uniformly dreading any decision that would make the fall 2020 semester much different than it has been in the past. But … would a little change really be that bad?

The words “REMOTE LEARNING” or “ZOOM UNIVERSITY” are probably emblazoned in your mind right now. But that’s not the only difference I’m talking about. What about if we do go back to school? We certainly wouldn’t show up sometime during O-Week and go about our business as usual for the rest of the semester. There would likely be heavy restrictions on gatherings, online components for larger classes and numerous health precautions. But there would also be unprecedented flexibility within classes and most other things we do at Cornell. I hope I’m not speaking for myself when I say that I would appreciate a continuation of what I’ve found on Zoom this past month: sympathetic instructors, generous grading and pleas to “take time for yourself.” Don’t mind if I do!

That’s a best-case scenario for most people. The other, very real, option is that remote learning continues into the fall. This is anathema for most Cornell students. Another semester without seeing the place we’ve grown to love is terrible to think about. We’d be without our friends, our favorite haunts and significant others for even longer than we thought we would when we said goodbye.

This is something to consider, despite what advocates of online learning may say. Even if the quality of education is the same, we signed up for more than just classes. If all we wanted were classes, I’d be wearing a University of Phoenix sweatshirt right now instead of a Cornell one. No, we signed up for the college experience. Yes, college is about lectures and labs, but it also encompasses extracurriculars, networking, nights and weekends with our peers and smiling at the cute girl at Appel. The college package should include more than just faces on a screen.

Not to mention that the thought of change is just annoying. Cornell students tend to be Type A; we have our college years and future plans scripted out, or at least outlined. A disruption of this magnitude makes our little obsessive-compulsive minds cringe.

When I’ve talked about the possibility of online learning in the fall with my peers, they’ve tended to screw up their faces and say they wouldn’t come back because it’s not worth it, especially if tuition remains largely unaffected. I tend to agree, but I also take their statements with a grain of salt. As Vanessa Martins ’22 recently noted to me, this conviction seems to be redolent of the “I’m not f-cking leaving!” motto so many Cornell students touted in mid-March. Most students are home now. We did f-cking leave, and I think that’s telling of the decision students will make for the fall.

After all, it’s important to remember that remote learning holds varying meaning for different students. Many students have academic or extracurricular obligations that a Zoom education can’t meet. For example, research requires guidance, interaction and equipment that Zoom often can’t offer.

Other students who may despise the idea of remote learning and want to take a semester off don’t have that option. Financial aid concerns could preclude some from considering taking a leave of absence. Incoming seniors who need to be hired in a particular application cycle may be forced to enroll in the fall just to graduate on time for it. STEM majors who need to take certain courses in fall-spring sequences could have to choose between opting for remote learning or taking a whole year off. Those are tricky scenarios. It’s lucky for many of us that we DO have the option. Because would staying away for another semester really be the worst thing in the world?

At Cornell, we’re always busy. Between studying, going to classes, drinking, working and managing extracurriculars, we hardly have time to think (at least, I don’t; maybe those of you with time-management skills can think at Cornell). Even during the summer, we’re usually buzzing away at internships or summer programs. This is the first time many of us have gotten off that ‘treadmill of stress’ since high school or beyond.

I’ve heard from many of my peers that they regret not having taken a gap year. They realize that a little time to unwind, learn about themselves and think about their future could’ve done them some good. If Cornell opts to continue remote learning in the fall and you decide to take a semester off, think of that time as a ‘forced’ gap year.

We grow a lot in college, but we tend not to have the time to think about how that growth is affecting us. Now, we have time. You can view it as a curse or a blessing. Use this time to relax, think and prepare, but try to find some peace. After all, we ultimately don’t have much power to affect Cornell’s decision (regardless of what Big Red Choice may think). We won’t know for sure what next fall will look like until at least mid-June. Personally, I can’t wait to hear what Martha’s crack committees come up with. Whatever it is, remember to find the silver lining.

Christian Baran is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at cbaran@cornellsun.com. Honestly runs every other Friday this semester.