M.A. in Zoom pt. 1: Initial Anxieties & Adaptation

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M.A. in Zoom pt. 1: Initial Anxieties & Adaptation

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This entry is part one of two entries that capture the first six months of my graduate school experience. I’m a graduate student in the public history program at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas. I, like many students throughout all levels of education, felt a dramatic shift during or following spring break 2020. Most institutions, like mine, extended our spring break by a week to brace campus for transitioning fully online. At this time, I was enrolled in a course called “Conceptualizing your Capstone.” As the world began to catch on fire, I was just starting to piece together my final project which will enable me to graduate with my M.A. degree. Perfect timing.

These are images of what my first semester of graduate school kind of boiled down to: completing the initial, most crucial, stages of my capstone virtually and completing my fellowship with what I felt were limited resources. What is not pictured was my constant fear of the unknown.

Initial Anxieties

For my capstone project I’ll be looking at the development of ballet folklórico in San Antonio and its influence throughout the state of Texas. I was looking forward to digging in our university and local archives; Fiesta was around the corner and I would’ve used that as an opportunity to document the different folklórico groups set to perform; and most importantly I had planned on meeting with the community members I’m working with face-to-face. The last point there was particularly concerning for me. I’d have to reach out remotely to a community who seldom opens their vaults to outsiders. How was I going to establish credibility and convince these groups that they could trust me via an email or Facebook message? The whole concept of my capstone project also might’ve had to change. I was originally looking to create a narrative history of Ballet Folklórico in San Antonio by drawing on the experience of my community partners–they are the earliest 501(c)(3) groups established in the city.

In regard to my schoolwork, how was I going to produce legitimate work from the confines of my house? Was I even in the right place mentally and emotionally to perform at graduate level amidst social, political, and medical disarray that was being broadcasted? I was starting to get cabin fever; I could’ve ignored the commotion outside so I could focus, but that felt selfish. How could my mind be everywhere at once, yet my body needed to remain indoors? (These are actually a bunch of large questions I’ve had swirling in my head throughout the rest of March.)

In late March, one of my brothers who’s a Texas State Trooper was ordered to quarantine for two weeks after someone in his unit contracted the virus. Then in mid-April, my other brother came down with something that gave him body aches, chills, fever, and made him sleep all day. No respiratory issues, however, we had no idea what was going on. He got tested for COVID and his results took four days to come back. Both my brothers tested negative, but these two events made it seem like the virus was everywhere and inhibited my ability to think and produce sound work.


After a couple of dramatic weeks, I got to a point where I could realize the amount of privilege my family and I managed to hold on to regardless of the dystopian-like transitions we were going through as a society. My dad and brothers could still commute to work (that has never been compromised throughout the past nine months), and my mom and I have been able to work from home; neither of us experienced a cut to our pay nor hours; I could get back to a regular sleep schedule because I no longer had to commute from campus, which is on the other side of town, late at night; we have stable WiFi; we have insurance; we’ve been able to pay our bills on time.

In terms of academics, contrary to my initial anxieties, my experience in graduate school wasn’t really compromised. I had already established relationships with my peers and professors so Zoom classes and weekly meetings for my fellowship didn’t feel so awkward. Even if I didn’t have the first half of the semester to acquaint myself with my classmates, my generation is very much accustomed to digital communication. We literally grew up on it; we witnessed the evolution from wall phones to smart phones. Making digital connections isn’t a foreign concept to me. The pace of graduate school also didn’t change much. Yes, not having to commute to campus really alleviated a lot of my stress. However, the sense of urgency in graduate school did not fade one bit.

I also underestimated the digital literacy of older generations. Specifically of the ballet folklórico community throughout Texas. Through the power of Twitter, Facebook, JSTOR, online university archives, and Zoom, I was able to build upon my research for my capstone. The individuals and groups I reached out to for help were surprisingly eager and generous. Maybe we were all craving some new faces or voices to interact with, or maybe I underestimated the power of engagement. I was able to build upon my capstone, and was probably more productive with it given that I had to stay in one place and work. Optimism was in the air.

The first photo is a screenshot of our final presentations where we pitched our capstone idea to the St. Mary’s history department. We were originally set to present our capstone idea to the public history department (staff and students). Initially, I thought this experience would be compromised. I thought I’d miss out on forming connections with other professors in the program. However, there was a collective understanding these young academics (my peers and I) are in the midst of creating one of the most important pieces of our careers under unimaginable outside challenges. All hands were on deck in making sure we received the most help and access to whatever resources. It reinforced that I belonged to a community grounded in the belief that regardless of the circumstances, our duty is to assist each other in our pursuit to public history. I hope other graduate students across the city, state, country, and world experienced this same empathy.

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San Antonio, Texas

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