Students sit socially distant from one another for their class Music of the 20th and 21st Century. (Hustler Staff/Sophie Heinz)

Finding My Voice: COVID-19 anxiety and isolation weigh heavily on Blair students

Sophie Heinz

Roughly two weeks ago, I was sitting in the Blair library on Zoom for my hybrid musicianship class when I started to feel my eyelids grow heavy. Minutes later, I had dozed off only to be awoken by the terrifying sound of my professor calling my name. “Sophie, are you awake?” It was clear I was not. So far, my experience with Zoom University has proven that I struggle to pay attention. Due to the physical separation from a true classroom setting, I find myself becoming much more distracted by my surroundings, allowing myself to mute my microphone, turn my camera off and work on whatever else I please. Or, in a few cases, unintentionally fall asleep. 

Nevertheless, midterms are quickly approaching, and I have not retained the necessary information needed to perform well on my exams. I think we can all agree this school year has presented us all with unprecedented challenges and new levels of anxiety we never experienced prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Obviously, there is the constant looming fear of contracting COVID-19 and being put into quarantine isolation for at least ten days. However, online school also presents numerous anxieties for students. Due to the restrictions and difficulties of online learning, I’ve felt trapped in a never-ending game of catch-up with my school work. As many Vanderbilt students can understand, school-induced anxiety isn’t a new feeling; however, time spent with my friends at a nice dinner or a fun party (voice major parties especially) always helped to relieve the stress of an upcoming exam, essay or performance. Now that COVID-19 has completely changed everyone’s idea of “normal,” I’ve realized how badly I miss the simple comfort of a hug from a friend or the ability to watch a funny movie with a group. 

Across every school, major or other differences, Vanderbilt students can all share in the heightened reality of COVID-19 induced stress and loneliness. As a Blair student, I miss going to the Blounge (the third floor Blair Lounge) between classes, grabbing a snack at Suzie’s and laying down on a couch with friends to laugh and decompress during a hard day. These are just a few of the simple pleasures I once took for granted. Now, most couches in Blair are blocked off to ensure that proper social distancing guidelines are maintained. While I realize the necessity of these actions, I’m filled with a sense of sadness when I walk around Blair and see the utter lack of social interaction. 

Last year, I wrote about the sense of community I felt as a Blair student at Vandy. Now, however, my experience here is tainted by a troubling sense of detachment and dissociation when I walk around campus. As a sophomore, I do have a group of close friends who I have turned to during this time as a result of the strong community bonds I forged last year at Blair. My heart goes out to the first-years on campus who are navigating a new environment and its challenges in addition to a school year unlike any other.

During a normal fall semester, the students from the voice department would host numerous voice major parties to meet and bond with the new students. Of course, COVID-19 interrupted yet another standard tradition, preventing the new members of the voice department from fully experiencing life as a Blair student and denying us an opportunity to get to know new members of our little family. I’ve realized how our current first-years haven’t had the opportunity to fully experience and benefit from the Blair community. So I, as well as many other voice majors, informally decided to reach out to a few first-years and ask them how their first few weeks have gone. All of them expressed how incredibly difficult it is to meet new friends and have fun with the safety regulations in place.

As a result of COVID-19, this school year has presented a variety of different changes and challenges which add more stress to all of our lives. Yet, for our own safety, we can’t socialize in close proximity with friends or let off a little bit of steam with a fun night out. Of course, we must follow social distancing guidelines if we want to stay on campus; however, I think that Vanderbilt and Blair have forgotten how important it is to have a social outlet in college. While some efforts have been made to improve socialization among students, such as a Blair picnic, most of the organization for socially distant gatherings has been left to students. For students who have not already developed strong, independent bonds with friends, this leaves many without much of a social outlet or connections at all.

I implore Vanderbilt, and specifically Blair, to acknowledge this and organize more safe social gatherings (outdoor picnics, movies, craft days, etc.) for students to bond on campus, especially for the first-years. Having a social outlet is crucial for maintaining good mental health; just as important as physical health. While there are many precautions in place to protect students’ physical health in this heightened time of risk, there is less being done to help students emotionally in a time when anxiety and loneliness are running so high. Without this much needed support, the anxiety of school can become too overwhelming, and the emotional well-being of students is put at risk.