My last day in my home state of Texas, where COVID-19 cases outnumber Connecticut’s nearly 14 to one, consisted of rushed goodbyes and weird glances. Wearing my facemask and clear shield in the airport, I was deemed an alien; fellow passengers stared quizzically at me, some chuckling, some turning their noses in disgust. One mother shuffled her curious child away from my mother and I, ironically pushing her into a circle of unmasked soldiers. As I said goodbye to my brother and father, both of whom work and live in communities with substantial growth in cases, I understood that I would be safer in New Haven than my own home.
As a result of the pandemic, the world’s re-opening has been varied to say the least. While some areas around the world are reopening with vigilance and precaution, others are…less inclined to do so. In the United States especially, where COVID guidelines have been dictated almost exclusively by the states, there are many definitions as to what safety really entails.
The culture surrounding COVID-19 in Texas is one where restrictions are often met with outright opposition. While some areas put social distance at the forefront, other areas are lawless.
I am from an area in Texas where, despite the few, strict guidelines of the CDC, people have actively ignored the pandemic as a global issue. Calling it a “bad flu,” most members of the community would rather attend their late summer ragers than address the looming increase in COVID-19 cases. The phrase “a violation of my rights” haunts essential workers and practically every local Facebook group, as if their selfishness is something to be proud of.
In the conversations I’ve had with my hometown friends returning to high school soon, there is a consensus that COVID is over. The mask requirement is taken as a suggestion; people, more times than not, will either take off their masks once they get into public stores, wear masks improperly or just dangle them on one ear like an annoying appendage.
In the argument of the needs of the collective vs. the desires of the individual, many communities have chosen the latter. However, as I was whisked off to New Haven, I was then transported to the former.
The second I stepped onto Yale’s campus, greeted by smiling faces and sanitized pens, I became one of those gawking faces I saw in the airport: shocked. Yet, after the initial surprise, I felt an instant sense of comfort and relief.
Seeing the normalization of social distancing among citizens in Connecticut, I experienced a kind of COVID culture shock.
Gradually, I began to accept these precautions as my new normal. I acknowledged the subtleties of my classmates using their sleeves to open doors, scooting away from each other, partaking in the “elbow tap,” and doing silent headcounts to ensure Community Compact compliance. I actively adopted those behaviors as well. Our Public Health Coordinator Adam floats around the frosh social epicenters in our residential college. Every once in a while, you hear a meek, “Hey guys…maybe we should be a bit more distanced…”, when things get too close for comfort. His suggestion is immediately followed.
Texas and Connecticut co-exist as two very different approaches to the pandemic, with political ideologies and structures muddying the waters every step of the way. Though different in nearly every capacity, they have one glaring connection: a girl between two worlds, desperately trying to stitch them together with a single piece of thread.
Bouts of this unexpected culture shock seemed to surface along the way as I’ve adjusted to college life. Incidentally, my culture shock coincided with my quarantine perfectly; the most glaring effects include isolation, confusion, and intense longing for interaction. I’ve also seen my own southern-ness heighten. I’ve never really had a close connection with Texas; however, I now find myself reaching for that similarity with anyone new that I meet, inserting my hometown into every conversation. For someone who has mere remnants of a Southern drawl, I hear myself saying “y’all” way more than I should.
I live in both of these worlds simultaneously. I love both of these worlds simultaneously. It is challenging to live with this cognitive dissonance, yet I am trying to incorporate both places into my singular existence. When seeing the many differences, I feel cheated. I want to be able to say that I feel safer at home, where I am kindly greeted by family, friends, and a support system that helped to shape who I am today. I want to be proud of where I am from and use that to help decide where I will go.
But I can’t.
When I see my mother, a teacher, being forced back into her school with the threat of becoming jobless, or my high school friends terrified to finish their education, pride isn’t the sentiment that comes to mind. These facts bring me back to reality, away from the safety bubble I feel at Yale. I am reminded of the reality of living in a culture-defining, global pandemic that will shape the years ahead. Anxiety flushes the linings of my stomach, and the cloud of fear hovering in the distance rushes forward and attacks.
Nevertheless, seeing my own Morse community grow into something so beautiful in a matter of fourteen days, I’ve begun to feel hope for the future.
The restrictive measures of COVID-19 have not limited the richness of New Haven and Yale. If anything, they’ve enhanced it. It is easy to spot the little moments of the Yale experience that are still intact. There are suite bonding activities, trivia nights, obscure late-night conversations that bond two strangers. Although I am restricted to the confines of my residential college until further notice, I have gotten to know so few people so well.
By now, the phrase “we’re all in this together” has been emblazoned on practically every TV screen and tone-deaf celebrity outreach post. However, this sentiment has begun to reign true.
The future of Yale, and the future of the world, are dependent on the communities and their choices to enact COVID-19 precautions on a day-to-day basis. But in this daunting call to action, we have made the steps to prioritize safety, all while being able to enjoy college in a new, unprecedented way.
We’ve found camaraderie through quarantine, not in spite of it. We all share this unprecedented experience, and in that, gain connections we otherwise wouldn’t have had. And now, we’ll go forth in this weird time of lifting restrictions, growing closer through the distance between us.
Maybe we’re all in this together after all.
Lauren Moore | firstname.lastname@example.org