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Coping with Coronavirus: The Perspective of a Student in Quarantine

September 22nd, 2020

By: Robin Martinez, Jr.

When I stepped off Arizona State University’s (ASU) campus in mid-March I had no idea it would be the start of the longest spring break of my life.

“Out of [an] abundance of caution, all in-person classes will transition to online instruction,” said the message from ASU President Michael Crow shutting down campus for the rest of the semester. Suddenly what I had previously shrugged off as another disease mankind would soon conquer had shifted my reality.

I was frustrated that we had allowed Coronavirus (COVID-19) to take over our lives and ruin my schooling. My classes that semester were enriching, the conversations and interactions were the most encouraging I had had throughout my time at ASU so far. I would not come to the realization that this situation was far greater than myself until later.

As the semester transitioned online, a host of new challenges were presented. I constantly had to remind myself that while the method had changed, the messages remained the same.

It was difficult, at times, to stay focused while sitting at home on my laptop. The ease of watching Netflix or forgetting a deadline without physical reminders from a professor were overwhelming. Over time, I grew accustomed to the new format, yet I still felt as though I was missing out on the “college experience.”

I missed the personal interactions between myself, my professors and my peers, the feeling of strolling through campus, and of exploring the newly renovated Hayden Library. Being surrounded by hundreds of like-minded individuals was both inspiring and exciting; however, it was all quickly brought to a close by COVID-19. My campus then became my kitchen counter.

On top of the rapidly changing circumstances that surrounded my schooling, I lost both of my jobs. I had no stable source of income and because of my bills and an unfortunate incident that required me to replace all four of my car’s tires, I had completely depleted my savings account. Every month, I watched as the money I had saved from scholarship refunds and tips washed away.

It was one of the most challenging times of my life. I sat in my car one afternoon weeping, unsure of how I could afford to sustain myself. I applied to several jobs, but no one was hiring. I filed for unemployment but was swiftly denied. I had to somehow maintain academic success while working through compounding economic insecurity.

I also reached out to Matthew Sotelo, my academic adviser through the Arizona education nonprofit College Success Arizona (CSA), for help. He saw to it that I received a grant from the Arizona Postsecondary Student Resiliency Fund (Fund), which was created by CSA and one of its partner organizations, Helios Education Foundation, to help students financially during the pandemic.

The Fund provided a total of $500,000 to more than 1,150 students, 89 percent of which are minority students and 77 percent of which are Pell Grant eligible.

CSA’s grant helped me exponentially. Luckily, I also have a wonderful family and a caring boyfriend who helped support me through this tempestuous situation. My boyfriend’s family contributed much to help pay for automotive repairs. My mother sent me small amounts of money to ensure that we could afford groceries. I had a host of assistance, but many are not as lucky.

There are thousands of self-supporting students who rely on a steady income not only for their education but their livelihood. Being furloughed, let go, or having their hours reduced could seriously jeopardize their success. This is especially true for those low-income and first-generation students who also rely on sustainable income as well as financial aid.

According to the National College Attainment Network (NCAN), the Pell Grant supports approximately one third of undergraduate students every year. At its peak, the grant covered three-fourths of the average cost of attendance but now covers less than 30 percent, which means students from low-income backgrounds need to acquire additional sources of income.

When that secondary source of income is jeopardized, as was the case during COVID-19, students need to be able to rely on financial aid to ensure they can pursue their educations.

During these unprecedented times, doubling the Pell Grant would significantly alleviate the burden of students who feel as though they must choose between having an income and having an education.

I, myself, am a beneficiary of the Pell Grant as well as the Fund from Helios and CSA. Both programs were designed to assist students who do not possess the necessary means to afford college on their own.

“COVID-19 heightens the equity issues low-income college students in Arizona face, said CSA President and CEO Rich Nickel in a statement stressing the need for equitable opportunities for economic success. “Organizations must come together now to provide aid to these students in this critical time.”

For a brief period of time, I was not able to see the larger picture: COVID-19 will not suddenly vanish on its own, nor will the disparities in educational attainment it has unveiled.

COVID-19 has exposed the fragility of the plane upon which many students rest; held up by stable income and financial assistance. Advocacy on our part and movement from Congress toward enhancing the latter is necessary to see these vulnerable students through to the ends of their education and beyond.

Robin Martinez, Jr. is currently a Senior at Arizona State University double-majoring in Justice Studies and Philosophy (Morality, Politics, and Law) with a certificate in Socio-Legal Studies. He is also a recipient of the College Success Arizona scholarship and worked with the Arizona College Access Network (AzCAN) to publish this piece.

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