Being a college student often involves juggling several classes, a part-time job, maybe an internship tacked on to that load, and hopefully some proper sleep and exercise in between.
Throw in a once-in-a-century global pandemic, and this semester has become perhaps the strangest and most challenging one many students will ever experience.
“I feel cheated but know I have no control over it,” said M.J. Johnson, a graduating San Francisco State University student who laments not having an official graduation ceremony.
“Because it’s taken me so long to get this degree, I’ve just put so much into that last moment walking to that stage in those robes, all my family with me,” said Johnson, who grew up in Japan and has family in various locations.
Johnson, along with David Mamaril Horowitz, Meyer Gorelick and Corey Browning, was one of the San Francisco Examiner’s four spring interns. In addition to their college work, they have been reporting on the many ways life has been disrupted while they navigate the difficult final weeks of the semester.
With fieldwork and finals eliminated, one of Browning’s two-hour classes got cut short to 45 minutes after the professor lost the internet connection.
“That’s just a whole lesson that’s down the drain, unfortunately,” said Browning, a graduating San Francisco State University student. “I feel like some of the learning has definitely been compromised.”
Johnson, a teacher’s assistant, is on both the learning and teaching sides of online education, which she finds to be “horrible.” Online lectures are easy to tune out, and she’s unable to offer the hands-on video training students need for multimedia courses.
The Examiner interns went from spending much of their time together on reporting projects and putting together publications including S.F. State’s Golden Gate Xpress and City College of San Francisco’s etc. Magazine and Guardsman newspaper to having no contact with each other or their peers. And they haven’t been able to say goodbye to all their friends.
“It’s been hard putting the [etc.] magazine together because the printer’s closed,” said Gorelick, who attends CCSF. “My least favorite part of it’s being on these Zoom calls.”
Horowitz has had to attend to Zoom lectures while helping his mother carry his father, who has dementia, into the bathroom, or serving his dad meals in his family’s Visitacion Valley home, where he was raised.
He used to work at the campus library or Starbucks. Today his classwork might be disrupted by his father’s emotional outbursts, which are caused by dementia. Sometimes he has to go outside to take a call, then shuffle back inside for an internet connection.
“I’ll be writing a story, say, on child abuse, and have an hour to do it, and in the background my dad is shouting at the top of his lungs, ‘Help! Help!’” said Horowitz, an SF State student. “A single scream shatters my f——- heart. He screams so desperately.”
The interns had to learn how to safely report in a pandemic as newsroom operations moved to reporters’ and editors’ living rooms.
“So much of our world isn’t online yet,” Johnson said, pointing to the difficulty in finding sources who are everyday people in addition to officials. “I feel like so much of what I’ve done in journalism is being in the community and talking to people and figuring out the stories.”
Johnson took to a more personal angle of reporting and produced a video diary for SF Weekly. Horowitz, who at first stayed inside as much as possible so he wouldn’t expose his senior-aged parents to coronavirus, felt strongly that the voices of homeless people needed to be included in a story on homelessness, so he ventured out to the Tenderloin.
“I know that I love my parents more than anything; likewise, homeless people have people who love them just as much as I love my parents,” Horowitz said. But he likely won’t venture out again, and added, “I don’t want to be the reason why my parents are on ventilators.”
Browning also was moved to report on conditions in the Tenderloin, where he first lived after moving here from Sacramento.
While the interns are reporting on people struggling to survive during the shelter-in-place, some were suddenly out of work themselves. Gorelick lost his part-time sports coaching gig.
Browning, however, still has a job at a bike shop, which is considered an essential business.
While the stimulus checks have been helpful, as has the student aid from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act passed in March, many college students face uncertainty around employment after graduating, particularly in industries such as journalism.
“There’s been times I’ve been pretty bummed about the situation,” said Browning, who is graduating. “That’s probably the hardest part about this. Already it was going to be hard to find a job, and now with [coronavirus], it’s definitely much more difficult.”
While processing feelings associated with sudden isolation and a grim global outlook, Gorelick and Horowitz said the lack of connection has made staying motivated difficult, also spurring guilt.
“Sometimes I’d feel OK, then sometimes, out of nowhere, I’d feel really lonely and sad,” Gorelick said, adding, “I feel really worried for people who are in a less fortunate position than me who are suffering and dying. I want there to be significant change to how our society works, and it seems like an uphill battle.”