‘Time Stopped’: Amherst Reflects on Two Years of Covid

On this day, March 9, two years ago, the college announced it would switch to remote learning due to Covid-19. The Student asked members of the college community to reflect on what they’ve learned through the pandemic, what has changed in their lives, and how they see the world differently now.

Two years ago today, the college announced that due to the increasing spread of the coronavirus, it would be transitioning to remote learning, with all students expected to leave campus within a week. Photo courtesy of Amherst College.

On this day, March 9, of 2020, the President’s Office sent out an email with the subject line “COVID-19: Major Changes.” The email announced that, due to the rapid spread of the coronavirus across the nation, the college would be switching to remote learning, with all students expected to leave campus within the following week. The world, and our individual lives, have not been the same since.

Two years later, The Student decided to piece together reflections on the staggering — and still ongoing — impact of Covid on our lives and on the Amherst campus. Reporters spoke with a range of college community members, and collected anonymous reflections in a submission box placed in Valentine Dining Hall. Here is what Amherst had to say.

“I look at life in a whole new different perspective. Things of meaning have changed. Family is stronger. Friends are stronger. What you took for granted, you don’t take for granted anymore.”

— Karen, dishwasher in Val

“We’ve kept going and going and never really stopped, despite the fact we’ve all been experiencing a natural disaster like no one’s ever experienced before. But where did the time go for surviving? Reflecting? Thinking, dwelling about what happened? Will I ever really comprehend how many lives were lost?”

— Anonymous

“At first, those online classes in March of 2020 [felt] like such a lifeline to each other. We were cast about, and looking for ways to reestablish these kinds of connections, and [it felt] valuable to be able to connect [through] those first online classes. And then [over] the next several months, [there was] … an interesting intimacy that was established between students and faculty, and students and students, when we were kind of looking in on each other’s lives. That sort of opened my eyes to the contexts of students’ lives that are often less visible. And it allowed me to also show students more of who I am and who my family is, and what my situation is like outside of the context of the classroom.”

— David Jones, professor of geology

“I feel like before, I was very much focused on timelines, and I think Covid has made me lose all sense of time altogether. That is the biggest part of it. In terms of career, or just the future, I have things that I would like to do, but I’ve become a lot more comfortable with uncertainty because of Covid.”

— Maira Owais ’23

“You don’t realize how time slips away until it’s ripped from you. I realized I needed to take back control & follow my passions despite my doubts.”

— Anonymous

“TIME STOPPED”

— Anonymous

“Once upon a time ago, I was a junior, taking all the opportunities I possibly could … Then it was all turned with the pandemic. Slowly getting lonelier, and crying everyday. I’d never want to go back to who she was. I grew, met new people, and am happy now. Thanks Covid.”

— Anonymous

“I was a freshman then. I’m a junior now. I feel like I’ve aged 10 years but also I should still be a freshman. Last year on campus burned me out. I’m glad it’s starting to go back to normal.”

— Anonymous

“I’d never even heard that term [social distancing] … I was like, ‘How am I supposed to tell students they can’t sit together?’ I was in a daze. That’s all I can tell you. I never anticipated that it was going to be so long … I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. And I’m no spring chicken, you know? Honestly. Never.”

— Barb, checker in Val

“I still remember when we got that email to get sent off campus. I was on Senate my first year, and all of our meetings are open for public comment. No one ever shows up, which is fine, understandable, people have things to do on Monday nights. But I remember that it was a Monday when we got the email, and I went to the Red Room … and [it] was just so packed. I had never seen it like that … people were sitting on the floor, people were trying to get in from the hallways … I would say like half of the school was there because Liz and Karu were having an open ‘air your grievances’ type of thing. Having the school react in such a magnitude … I think that was a first … I think [the pandemic became] the first time the administration had to realize that whatever policies they are making had a direct impact … this was the first time the administration hasn’t been such an abstract idea.”

— Maira Owais ’23

“I am much more future-oriented [now]. I spend less time thinking about what happened in the past and more time on what I can do for the future … It's possible that this change in my worldview is simply the result of becoming more mature, but chances are that the pandemic has influenced it, even if I'm not sure how.”

— Wenche Tseng ’24

“I guess the most jarring thing for me with Covid, as an employee, is my memory. It just seems like an eternity. It was only two years. I can’t recall exactly what happened when, because so much happened instantly. I was in the middle of a workday — literally — and we were just told on our morning break that the campus was shutting down … I was scared. Thinking that this was the end … No work. No money. I was here, helping people move out of the Greenways. It was chaos … Just take whatever you pack.”

— Marlayna Barnette, custodian

“There’s a lot about that last week [before everyone was sent home] that is still very crystallized in my mind. One of my students gave me their fish to take care of, you know, because they couldn’t take it back with them. And we didn’t know when they were going to come back … And I remember walking down the middle of my residential street in Amherst, with no cars around anywhere, and just feeling like, ‘Wow. This is fundamentally different from life that we’ve had before.’”

— David Jones, professor of geology

“As an international student, I’ve been staying on campus since the pandemic started. This allows me to witness, sometimes in solitude, how the pandemic changed the campus experience. I recognize that being able to stay on campus is a privilege for an international student. While I couldn’t reunite with my family back home, I’ve made Amherst home … Covid hollowed the campus into a fleshless skeleton, and I felt I was one of the few active cells in it … Amherst’s frequent testing protocols and response to international students’ needs reassured me and my family, and what’s more important than that in a pandemic?”

— Haoran Tong ’23

“I HATE COVID”

— Anonymous

“I feel that the pandemic has generally made political discourse much more hostile. These days, people are often upset, disappointed, and even enraged by others who don’t share their beliefs and views.”

— Wenche Tseng ’24

“I’ve learned how stupid liberals are.”

— Anonymous

“Other liberal arts colleges don’t have access to testing — all their numbers are nonsense … so people get anxious. I think people here are tired of getting tested and get tired of wearing masks, just as they are everywhere — but I think the college has probably handled it better than any other institution I can compare it to.”

— Rick Lopez, dean of new students

“While I understand they are concerned about my safety, Amherst’s COVID policies during spring of 2021 gave me mental health issues. :(”

— Anonymous

“The college is just weird as hell … they spend their money on the weirdest crap. It’s like, ‘You guys just worked your asses off for a year, here’s a fleece vest.’”

— Marlayna Barnette, custodian

“I think that [both students and faculty] have been much more resilient than I think anyone would have possibly imagined … I've been amazed at just how resilient people have been … Even two years in, it’s just hard. As a faculty member, it takes me longer to get to know my students, because I can only see [their] eyes, and I think it takes students longer to get to know each other too … we can’t get to know each other as well. And that’s so much of what I love about this place.”

— Rick Lopez, dean of new students

“I feel like my college experience has been taken away from me. I wish I had one more normal year of college — and I’ll never get that back. I’ve been so stressed and burned out. I don’t think people have considered challenging situations and the loss students have experienced. I lost my dad to Covid and I didn’t feel supported.”

— Anonymous

“1. Changed countries, continents, and homes. 2. Social time is priceless.”

— Anonymous

“This pandemic has shown me so much about control, and our lack of it. It has taught me about accepting change, about making choices. And it has taught me how much life is just about people.”

— Anonymous

“If one would ask what art could do in the pandemic, I would show them the pictures and the poems. They heal us.”

— Haoran Tong ’23

“I was very lonely, but music got me through it.”

— Anonymous

“F — k it, we ballin’!”

— Anonymous

“I have a whole alternate life now. That is — I wouldn’t have learned many things that the last two years has led me to. I would have lived an alternate set of events, locations, communities. What is it that I’ve learned … to slow down, to ride imbalance back to balance.”

— Anonymous

“A big part of life now is these changes in the way that I conduct classes. I try to make my classes a lot more active for students. I try to include more in classes that contribute to a student’s sense that there is some relevance in the class to their lives. I tried to simplify things as much as possible to reduce the sort of cognitive loads that we all bear, [and] think hard about what’s essential … [the Geology Department is thinking] more critically about how accessible our curriculum is to students of all different sorts.”

— David Jones, professor of geology

“I met my soulmate”

— Anonymous

“I came out as lesbian and started living the life I want, because life is fleeting and temporary so prioritize having fun and loving!”

— Anonymous

“I learned that my laugh can be heard across campus”

— Anonymous

“I’m scared, actually. I’m scared for the future. It’s hard to find hope. I try not to think about those things, the negative stuff, … all these ‘what ifs.’ ... It’s like, you’ve made it this far, and you’ve gone through this. We’re kind of capable of anything. We can do anything. Going through all of that, I guess. And on a personal level, going through other things on top of that, it’s like you can do anything.”

— Marlayna Barnette, custodian

“The pandemic, in short, taught me militant self-love. I mean, I feel like there’s no way anyone can go through something that catastrophic and not come out the other side feeling empowered.”

— Anonymous