Universities shut down in light of Omicron surges

SH Alumni struggle through distance learning

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Imaged used with permission from Meagan Kimbrell

This is a screenshot of an email sent from UCLA to Sunny Hills Class of 2021 alumna Meagan Kimbrell informing her of the extension of remote learning. As University of California and many other colleges are opting to go online because of the new Omicron variant, SH alumni experience the limitations of online instruction.

By Jaimie Chun, Sunny Hills High School

Sporting furry red, plaid pajama pants and an overfit hoodie, Sunny Hills Class of 2021 alumna Anika Madan is ready for her first period class at the University of California, Irvine. 

Not exactly the college life she dreamed of with her fellow Anteaters, Madan instead takes two steps from her bed, scrolling and clicking her way into her virtual class.

“At college, I would still go to the library, sit outside in Aldrich Park, go to my job, so I had a lot of change scenery and physical activity,” said Madan, who went through distance learning since her junior year at Sunny Hills High School. 

UC Irvine is only one of the University of California schools that have decided to go online to start off the spring semester, an announcement that followed a recent surge of Omicron variant cases.

“When I first heard the news, I was relieved that we were going online,” Madan said. “The number of cases at UCI were really high at the time, and I personally didn’t feel safe being back on campus.” 

Despite understanding the reasons behind the decision, SH alumni, who went through nearly two years of distance learning in high school and then finally a half-year of normalcy in their freshman year of university before having to revert back to what they experienced as juniors in March 2020, find it difficult to overlook the drawbacks of distance learning.

“Some challenges are being able to keep myself focused during Zoom classes, which I’m sure everyone knows by now, it can be very hard,” said SH Class of 2021 alumna Meagan Kimbrell, who is attending UCLA. “Being able to find places in my area where I can really just sit down and work without getting distracted by my family or dogs is challenging.”

Though most universities initially stated that online instruction will only last for the first week of the month, UCs, private schools and California State universities decided to extend distance learning to Jan. 31.  

Being able to find places in my area where I can really just sit down and work without getting distracted by my family or dogs is challenging.”

— Meagan Kimbrell

“I was disappointed because I was hoping to finally be in person full-time,” said SH Class of 2020 alumnus Vishnu Kharva, who currently attends the University of California, Riverside. “I wanted to be able to interact with professors and other students on campus … The first few weeks of class have been extremely dull and repetitive.”

Despite being able to experience in-person learning up to his second half of his senior year in high school, unlike Kimbrell and Madan, he equally finds that the distance learning lifestyle lacks the excitement of college that he experienced during the fall semester and in 2020 when he first entered UC Riverside.

“Our fall quarter was in person and was a generally more enjoyable experience,” he said. “Some classes, like my biology lab, were more fun to have hands-on experience. It was also fun to interact with other students and make friends.”

Encountering similar problems, Kimbrell, feels disappointed that she cannot experience the entirety of her freshman year on campus. 

“Things that I feel like I’m missing out on are obviously forming new relationships with my classmates and teachers and also just being able to be on my own and independent,” said Kimbrell, who had to take half of her classes online in the previous quarter as well because some professors opted to hold lengthy lectures through Zoom. 

Though both Kimbrell and Kharva, who live in an off-campus apartment near UC Riverside, are yet to have stayed in campus dorms, Madan said she is hesitant to return to her dormitory when in-person instruction resumes on Jan. 31.

“I live with three other people and then our bathroom connects with another four girls, so I share spaces with seven other people at a time,” Madan said. “While I trust my roommates, I don’t know where they go and who they interact with so the scare of getting COVID-19 is always there — even last quarter.”

Moreover, Kharva is facing problems regarding tuition as students are expected to pay the full fee throughout the distance learning period.

“It’s very unreasonable for the school to have us pay full tuition for classes that are done online,” Kharva said. “The school even charges fees for buildings on campus that are currently closed.”

In addition to having to pay the full tuition as well, Madan said she is also concerned about the lack of communication between the student body and administration this month while in distance learning.

It’s very unreasonable for the school to have us pay full tuition for classes that are done online…The school even charges fees for buildings on campus that are currently closed.”

— Vishnu Kharva

“The school told us that the Associated Students of UCI and its Associate Graduate Students were consulted before they made their decision, which through Instagram and Reddit was revealed that they weren’t — they weren’t consulted despite asking to be a part of the conversation,” Madan said. “UCI also didn’t initially tell students about how they can get higher quality masks, despite asking students to not wear cloth masks.”

Similarly, with growing numbers of students and staff testing positive, UC Davis also made its announcement to prolong the period when students started tagging the UC Davis chancellor Gary May on social media posts because they were frustrated that they did not have the class resources if they were in quarantine, Sunny Hills alumna Dain Kim said. 

“For me, I had really understanding professors, so I wasn’t involved in the heat, but I’m glad the chancellor made the decision after hearing what students had to say,” said Kim, who was one of the many who tested positive the week of Dec. 26 but was asymptomatic. “I honestly thought [testing at school] was pretty smart because it could motivate people to get tested and the school can take action according to the results, which was about a 3% positivity rate for us.”

However, some like SH Class of 2021 alumnus Gabriel Diaz, who currently attends the University of California, Merced look on the brighter side of the remote learning situation.

“The first few weeks online haven’t been terrible,” Diaz said. “I’m not that scared to go back since we are required to be vaccinated if we are in person. I do have to focus more, but since it’s only the beginning of the semester, we aren’t going through anything too difficult.”

Regardless of the struggles the students are going through, alumni members said they are trying to be optimistic amid the current situation. 

“I try to be optimistic and see this as an opportunity to be with family for a bit more and enjoy the comfort of being back home, and overall I’m glad we are online now and not in the middle of the semester,” Diaz said.

This story was originally published on The Accolade on February 1, 2022.