The Vanderbilt University COVID Shutdown

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The Vanderbilt University COVID Shutdown

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This is a photo of an ABC news segment that was aired on March 11th, 2020, at the very beginning of the pandemic in the United States. The photo shows an interview of a Vanderbilt student (me!). The caption reads “Undergrad Students Must Move out by Sunday”. The interview was taken on a Wednesday, which had been the day that the students were notified that they would need to vacate the campus. The Monday of that week, March 9th, had been our first day after spring break. That same day, we received the first email about the Coronavirus. It stated that classes would be cancelled for the next two weeks. At that time, some students and parents began to panic. Some students decided to leave campus for those two weeks, and believed that they would simply return after those two weeks. These students only took the belongings that they would need for those two weeks, and many of them left the majority of their things in their rooms. Two days later, on the Wednesday of that week, the students received a second email that we would all need to leave campus, and that we had until that Sunday to move all of things out entirely. Naturally, mass chaos ensued as students struggled to figure out how to move all of their things. Most students did not have any help from parents or family, as many people were afraid to travel. This time was a blur of stress, fear, and sadness as students mourned the year that was left unfinished. It was a charged frenzy of packing and moving, but despite this, all around the Vanderbilt’s campus, friends could be seen hugging and crying, particularly the graduating seniors. It was truly surreal in the worst way possible.
For me, this picture represents that entire, horrific, move-out experience. On the day that I found out that we would need to leave for the remainder of the year, I was in a practice room in my dorm with one of my friends. He had just been telling me how he had been fighting with his father over whether or not to leave during the two weeks without class. He, of course, wanted to stay on campus, but his father was convinced that he needed to come home. I had already conceded to my parents on that battle, and had plane tickets to come home for the Friday of that week. I, like everyone else, thought that I would only be going home for two weeks like the email had explained. I also was willing to be home for the two weeks to see my family, as I had been in the UK over spring break, which had caused major tensions with my parents. Wednesday’s email confirmed our worst fears: we would all be forced to leave for the rest of the year. I remember feeling completely numb. I walked out of the room to call my parents, while my friend called his. As I spoke to my mom, I realized that I would need to pack up all of my things extremely quickly. She advised me to go to the UPS store to get boxes; as soon as my friend and I were both off the phone, we went straight there, buying up many boxes each to begin packing. While we tried to smile and be upbeat, both of us were still in utter shock. With every ounce of my being, I did not want to leave. It was my sophomore year, and college finally seemed to be mine; I had a phenomenal group of friends who I loved deeply, I was involved on campus, and I loved my classes and professors. The tragedy of it all reverberated through me in waves. As devastated as I was, I had a more imminent task to focus on: moving out. Once we had bought our boxes, we realized that we could not carry them back to campus, and ordered an Uber. As I struggled to carry my boxes from the Uber, I noticed a news crew stationed outside of my dorm.
“Could we ask you a few questions?” they called to the pair of us as we labored with our boxes. My insides swirled with anger and frustration about the whole situation, about the unfairness of it all.
“Yeah, for sure!” I responded. Maybe someone would actually listen to us, and understand the insanity that we were experiencing. While I don’t remember the exact questions asked, I remember telling them that we had just picked up boxes as we were required to leave campus later that week. I attempted to communicate how upsetting this was to the entire student body. While I have never actually seen this news clip, a friend of mine sent me this picture of me being interviewed. For me, this picture captures how surreal the move out was. I was on the news, and I forgot all about it. It honestly meant nothing to me in that moment, as my world was pulled out from beneath me.

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This item was submitted on September 12, 2021 by Hannah R using the form “Share Your Story” on the site “A Journal of the Plague Year”:

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