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Viewpoint: COVID-19 and it’s damage to the 5Cs

by Mattin Khoshzaban, Pomona College ‘24

As a second-year student at Pomona College, over half of my “college experience” took place in the vicinity of the room I grew up in, staring endlessly at computer screens while aimlessly taking my first college classes during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. While many of my friends left my hometown to attend their respective universities, I felt stuck at home with a growing sense of jealousy. Like many of my peers, I was itching to live on campus and spread my wings. Yet, with COVID-19 cases at their pinnacle throughout the United States, and some of the strictest guidelines in Los Angeles County, the Claremont Colleges were unable to open throughout my freshman year. For many students, including myself, our mental health was impacted. As a result of online classes, I felt a growing sense of depression and anxiety, losing my motivation along the way. It seemed impossible to be passionate about my schoolwork, or anything in general. Early morning classes via Zoom were comical, as many students would open their laptops and log into Zoom, turn off their cameras, and sleep through class. School has always been a place of driving innovation and a passion for learning for me, yet Zoom classes seemed to have taken those traits away.

When the Claremont Consortium decided to return to in-person classes for the 2021-2022 school year, I was elated. I was hopeful I would be able to find myself again. Yet, as I finally moved on campus at the start of my sophomore year, I quickly realized I wasn’t going to get the college experience I dreamed about.

At first, COVID-19 restrictions were strict: there were no 5Cs events, cross-campus dining was closed, and some classes remained online. Although I was finally living on campus, it was apparent that this school year was not going to be a normal one. Student athletes such as I had to be especially careful, as one outbreak on the team could lead to forfeiting games, a best-case scenario. If a teamwide outbreak was significantly large, the team would have to be suspended from all training and games for a two-week period. My excitement about school drained away and I quickly became overwhelmed. As the 5Cs are known for prestigious yet rigorous curriculums, many students felt overwhelmed by the copious amount of work and limited social interaction they were able to experience. With limited social interaction and a jam-packed schedule of school and soccer, I lost myself. I started losing love for the sport I thought I’d never break away from, and classes were too much of a grind for me to enjoy. For many people looking at me from the outside, I felt misunderstood. How could a student athlete at the esteemed Pomona College be this unhappy? I was attending one of the best liberal art schools in the world, living in a Southern California paradise, but I was unhappier than ever before. Luckily for me, I was surrounded by a great support group. I made some lifelong friends (both players and coaches) on the team who were always there for me, and my parents did everything they could to support me. As time passed and booster shots became a requirement, the consortium slowly lifted some of these guidelines.

With our second semester underway, we caught a glimpse of what a normal life might be in Claremont. With very few COVID-19 cases, students were finally allowed to take advantage of some of the best features of the 5Cs such as cross-campus dining. It finally started to feel like I was living the true Claremont experience. With many of these restrictions lifted, students were finally able to let loose and relax with a feeling of normality. For me, I started to fall back in love with the greatest sport in the world, while at the same time regaining my curiosity and motivation. Unfortunately, the “normal” experience drew to a swift end. Over the past two weeks, the Claremont Colleges have seen a massive uptick in COVID-19 cases. Pomona College recorded a whopping total of 57 new positive cases over a two-day span last week, with the rest of the consortium not too far behind. Again, we saw an immediate regression in COVID-19 policy, resulting in closed dining halls, canceled events, and some classes even returning to Zoom. For many students, the new wave gave them a dreadful reminder of life in the height of the pandemic, leaving us with the question: “will things ever be back to normal for us at the 5Cs?”

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