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Opinion: In-class instruction during COVID: A bittersweet privilege

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This time last year, news began to spread about the impending threat of COVID-19, yet the implications of the virus were undermined by misinformation, misconception, and an innocent, underlying naivety that left us – as it has many a time – scrambling to pick up the pieces.  One year later, I find myself, along with most everyone else, shackled by the harsh, pervasive realities that the pandemic has staked into our livelihoods.  Being a full-time student amid this transition has been no picnic, but I have been granted the rare privilege of continued on-campus access, given the hands-on nature of the visual media program.  The experience, as expected, has been a mixed bag of bittersweet proportions; frustration interlaced with ambivalence, no doubt, but also an observed gratitude that keeps my worries and struggles in check.

The Visual Media program, along with the Apparel & Design and Culinary Arts programs, have been permitted year-long campus access to utilize the respective facilities.  I cannot speak to the latter two programs in terms of what’s expected of the cohorts, but as a visual media student, I can only aim to appreciate the special privileges bestowed upon us, even if they are overshadowed by an underlying malaise and unease concealed within the times at hand.

I generally show up to school once or twice a week, since only some classes are taught in person.  The remaining days of the week are Zoom-a-fied, as in, the standard 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM schedule remains intact.  Even if certain on-campus days are permitted, it is up to the student to determine if they feel comfortable exposing themselves to the outside world and to the insulated nature of the campus confines.  If not, tuning in virtually is an option, regardless of available in-class teaching days.

The school has become a ghost town, as one would expect.  There is only one accessible entrance and exit for students and faculty, and the entryway has become a fortified checkpoint of sorts.  All of those who wish to attend must watch a weekly COVID safety protocol video, as well as submit a campus access form, detailing one’s reason for attending on the given day and their affiliation with the school.   A near-identical form must be filled out upon leaving the school, serving as a record for those who have safely exited uncompromised.

Jordan Somers | The Seattle Collegian The main hallway at Central, now empty and cordoned off

Walking toward the elevators in the main hall once brimming with busy bodies, the school has become a hollow, eerily quiet shell.  Vending machines have been emptied, various sections of the school, including the bathrooms, have been taped off in accordance with COVID safety and compliance regulations.  Several tall, circular tables are positioned along the main hall, each serving as a makeshift hand sanitizing station.

Jordan Somers | The Seattle Collegian Wash your hands, somewhere else.
Jordan Somers | The Seattle Collegian Don’t forget to bring your own water, the drinking fountains are out of service!
Jordan Somers | The Seattle Collegian One of the many circular tables strategically placed throughout the hallways

The 5th floor, home to the visual media and graphic design programs, has always felt a bit detached from the rest of the goings on in the school.  We have our own lab, classrooms and studio which traditionally left us ensnared and but mere acquaintances with the other four floors.  The studio, once serving as a place to practice and master our crafts, where we’d spend countless hours daily after school, has become a provisional classroom, where desks of various sizes are angled in an imperfect crescent shape to face the professor’s newfound teaching post toward the southwest corner of the space.   Granted, the studio is still accessible for its intended practical uses, but the dizzying nature of the pandemic has subtly dissuaded students from utilizing it as much as they have to or, in most cases, as much as we need to.

The option to attend class has posed a bit of a conundrum at times, in that Zoom life has a tendency to amplify one’s own sedentary proclivities.  There are now days where I have a choice to receive in-person or Zoom-based class, and sometimes the latter is more tempting, more convenient, where little to no movement or traction is required to access a virtual form of education.  I can sit comfortably, sip my tea, get up, use the bathroom, do things on my own terms.   But at what cost?

We all have our very unique, respective perceptions that we carry with us, and learning styles that we attempt to understand and cultivate in an age of post-industrialized education.  The opportunity to attend school, albeit under a new guise, has revealed the necessity in receiving such an education, at least to the extent which I’m able to connect and synergize with teachers and students in person.  Wearing a mask, technical Zoom difficulties, sitting socially distanced, not having the company of other students and cohorts – all of these elements have been challenging and even detrimental to the quality of education we expect to receive.  Yet I also find that I can oftentimes wallow too much in these observations, while negating the privilege of this semi-intact chosen path, whether on Zoom or receiving socially distanced, in-class instruction. 

It’s quite easy to lament the what if’s, and I cannot help but ponder the inadequacies of the program, which have been more viscerally revealed as a result of the pandemic; but, ultimately, this is where we find ourselves, and we are undoubtedly being primed to withstand and evolve with such bizarre unfolding outcomes.  I’ll continue to attend school and take advantage of this privilege, treating Zoom as a more secondary resort, while also consciously trying to make peace with this blatant virtual shift.  I’m certain that, before long, Seattle Central College will return to its bustling ways, hopefully with newfound approaches and protocols – the silver linings of such catastrophes – to ensure students continue to receive the education they signed up for.

Jordan Somers is currently in his second year of Visual Media at Seattle Central College. He specializes in photojournalism and documentary work, with a particular emphasis on social movements happening throughout the city. His 2020 documentary, Hope is Not Cancelled, was an official selection at the Local Sightings Film Festival, and won an award for best editing at the Oregon Documentary Film Festival. Jordan is an avid traveler when granted the opportunity, and has a keen interest in psychology and existential philosophy.

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