My turn, Tarik Woods: Despite challenges, class of 2020 will persevere

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 22, 2020

By Tarik Woods

The rustle of tree limbs and gentle scraping of autumn’s leftover leaves are the loudest things you’ll hear on the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s campus for the foreseeable future.

“Picture it, Chapel Hill 2020” is how I will one day start telling the story of this spring to my future children. The UNC class of 2020 has seen a lot of chaotic events during our time, but none as drastic as this newest crisis.

An NCAA basketball national championship followed by a night of jumping burning furniture in the streets, three hurricanes, a presidential election, two snow storms, a bombing of the Davie Poplar Tree, the return of Coach Mack Brown, two Chancellors, removal of Confederate Statues and more. We have tackled every adversity that has come our way but we’ve never been in such a gray area as with COVID-19.

Like the rest of the world, we are attempting to take the necessary precautions to protect us from this virus; but at a cost. The once busy and energetic pit is silent and our classrooms have moved online. Our friends and colleagues remain scattered globally with a limited ability to return home. Trying to sift through the rapidly changing information isn’t easy as we keep ourselves locked away from these beautiful early spring days. The disorientation regarding access to campus, from resources to open buildings, keep us frantically reloading our emails.

We are each handling this crisis differently. Some stay around town for work, some have gone back to their hometown and others have taken advantage of the student discounts for travel — unfortunately. Air lines, hotels, cruises and any other vacation or transportation you can think of have not given up, attempting to save their profits by advertising to college students and offering amazing deals. Tempting as they might be, with our university administration sending us daily reminders about staying inside and social distancing, we’ve mostly barred our doors and windows.

Like some universities, UNC has decided to close most of campus and send all on-campus students away. Our local grocery store shelves are near empty, and getting food has proven difficult for those without meal plans and private transportation. It is not an exaggeration to say that there is a severe lack of toilet paper and milk, and my grandmothers would be very disappointed to know that I hadn’t stocked up prior to the ensuing rush. However, I cannot help but think of the great number of out-of-state and foreign exchange students who’ve been displaced because of campus’ closure and travel restrictions.

The confusion that surrounds this pandemic touches every part of our lives. Many students don’t know if they will be refunded for dorms, student activity fees and meals. There are numerous disciplines that will have a hard time adjusting to virtual learning. Chemistry labs, for  instance, will have to be postponed; it’s still up in the air as to whether currently enrolled pupils will receive credit. There is a petition circulating around the UNC System that more than 10,000 students have signed to provide us with greater accessibility to online courses, grading flexibility, and reimbursement.

Finally, for us, seniors who have spent the last four years of our early adult lives here and at Universities around the country, it seems especially emotional. We have laughed, cried and powered through countless sleepless nights on this campus. Now it seems the second half of our final spring semester and possibly commencement may be stripped from us. Our first entry into the workforce will be in what seems the first global recession in a decade. We recognize the seriousness of this pandemic, but it is still exceptionally disappointing.

Yet, we persevere with a fervent strength. So keep your eyes open for the class of 2020 because it seems we can sustain, and do,  anything.

Tarik Woods is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a graduate of Salisbury High School.