The New Normal

We have all entered some uncharted territory recently as WashU students. I was hiking in my favorite trail in Castlewood and about to head to Meshuggah Cafe for lunch during spring break when I got an email from chancellor Martin. The email informed us that in-person classes would be cancelled for the spring semester and asked us to return home instead of to campus to finish our semester online.

Spring break was extended an extra week to allow time for everyone to get organized. For those who weren’t on campus for spring break, essential items (books, medications, electronics, etc.) were mailed to us safely and quickly by WashU. Everything arrived in time for the beginning of classes. Our professors made the transition to online learning feel natural by sending out thoughtful email updates as they made decisions about the future of our courses. They asked us questions about our new situations to make sure we had the accommodations we needed. New syllabi were distributed to reflect our new reality…. our new normal.

Now we are starting to settle into that new normal, we trade our old routines for social distancing substitutes. For example, on Tuesdays, instead of going to Whispers for oatmeal and a coffee in Olin, my day starts by going to my kitchen to make some oatmeal and a smoothie. Instead of camping out at a table in Whispers and checking in with friends as they sleepily filter in for their own morning coffees, I perch at my kitchen table and send out messages to friends asking for updates on how they are doing (my favorite responses are dogs and homemade latte art!)

When it’s time for class, I head back into my bedroom where I now have a regular incentive to make my bed in the morning… zoom calls!! My bedroom has become my  classroom so I try to make sure it is neat in the background and have also added some new cheery art pieces.

My first class of the morning is a group Zoom with the professor and a couple students from my Branding and Identity studio. Our new mockups and logo designs are posted to Box before we enter the call so our professor can screen share and lead the discussion on Zoom. During screen share we are able to discuss each other’s work easily, we can point out if a logo needs to get bigger, applaud a cute monster illustration, and suggest an additional application for a superb rebrand.

Normally, I am not able to workout on Tuesdays because of my busy class schedule but because of the individual meeting times, I now have a break between my first and second classes that I use to go for a run outside and get some fresh air. After this I shower and change into the zoom class uniform essentials: a bright shirt, brushed hair, and blue jeans with a cozy blanket draped over my legs.

The work in my second class of the day, creative nonfiction memoir writing, has mostly been moved online. We are now using Canvas to post our own work and workshop other’s work. While this has been a fruitful transition and made the class more manageable, I am grateful for our optional Tuesday writing sessions with our professor. These sessions are often smaller since they are optional and allow for us to not only exercise our writing skills but also offer time to engage in animated discussions with our classmates. Our answers to writing prompts often lead to these discussions naturally, conversations about finding the perfect car, mysteries of plant care, or being hyper focused on freckles.

Immediately following my writing class is my capstone class. For this class, we start with a whole group check-in. During this check-in, our professor ensures everyone is in good spirits about capstone among all the other things happening in their lives. The goal is to make sure every student has what they need. After the check-in, we meet in small groups afterwards for more in depth reviews of our capstones or have one-on-one meetings with our professor. I am normally at my desk for the length of this 3 hour studio either on a Zoom Call, commenting on a classmate’s project, responding to a question in our slack channel or applying feedback to my own project.

When this class is over, I change into comfy clothes as I would after school once I got home: a Meshuggah shirt, a Sam Fox hoodie, and sweats. I spend a couple hours doing homework and applying project feedback as I would at school. Because I spend more time on my laptop now, I give myself a hard stopping point for screen time in the evening. After that, I will read a book from Subterranean on the Loop (they are still delivering) or call a friend to see how their day went. In our phone calls, we discuss how classes are going (good mostly, better when someone’s dog enters the call), what we are doing to stay upbeat (baking cookies, watching old movies, doing yoga) and how we are adjusting to the new normal.