Local | Mind, Body & Spirit

UArizona students find strength in virtual community

Lisa Friedman

For students, the University of Arizona experience has been turned upside down during this COVID-19 era. The university has switched to online classes and all in-person activities have been canceled or postponed until further notice. Many students have felt the impact of social distancing and have been struggling with school and everyday life.

“I think I’ve been handling [social distancing] pretty well. What I have been doing is setting a new routine and making sure I do positive things in my day like catching up with friends and being as normal as possible,” says UArizona student Lisa Friedman. She makes sure that when she gets up in the morning she puts on fresh clothes, goes for a walk, and then does her schoolwork. She attends Zoom class meetings and has Zoom meetings with friends, so she does not feel completely isolated.

Friedman is a junior pursuing a bachelor of science degree in literacy, learning, and leadership at the UArizona College of Education. She is involved in the UA Hillel Foundation, Jewish Arizonans on Campus, and takes a heavy load of classes each semester. She moved home with her parents in Los Angeles after Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order on March 30 for everyone except essential workers to stay home to slow the spread of the coronavirus. To fill all the empty time in her schedule, she has been trying out new hobbies such as writing music.

Lauren Bander

Lauren Bander, a freshman in the Honors College majoring in global studies and political science, moved back in with her parents in Tempe. She has spent time redecorating her room to keep busy.

“I was very used to a schedule and having a lot of awfully specific times and meetings with my classes and my job, and working with different clubs and organizations on campus. Now that has all been moved to online and there are fewer specific times for things, it is more doing things on my own time, which can be very difficult to keep a schedule,” Bander says. “I am also an extremely outgoing and socially motivated individual so having that intrinsic motivation instead of that social motivation is an adjustment.”

Bander was accustomed to living in the dorms with lots of people to talk to. She was involved in Hillel, CATPAC, and the freshman class council. Now she must find other ways to refuel as an extrovert.

“It is difficult for me because the Jewish community is really what drives me. Obviously, it is a difficult time, and everyone is struggling with their faith, but I am a big believer in the concept that this, too, is for the best,” Bander says. “I think we will all learn a lot from this experience.”

Bander says social distancing has provided opportunities to learn new things. She has been learning embroidery and art. She also has reconnected with old friends through Facebook groups — and met some new people. She joined a Facebook group called “Zoom University Hillel” that connects Jewish students from universities across the U.S. So far, more than 14,000 people have joined, and Bander has connected with several new people she otherwise would not have met.

“I think people need to stay connected. Humans are social creatures and we really need to rely on each other. If we cannot do that in person than we need to find different ways to fulfill that need. We are lucky that if such an event were to happen it must happen in the digital age where we can have conversations over the phone or type out a message and post it online. Things like Facebook groups are keeping people’s morale up and are making the best of a difficult situation,” Bander says.

Zachary Schawelson

Zachary Schawelson is a freshman studying optical engineering with a minor in astronomy, who also has relocated to his parents’ house in Phoenix.

“Self-isolating for me has been a change from what I’m used to. I’m sure it’s been a change for everyone. For me, I have my entire family now at home, which is a blessing and it’s a curse,” he says. Schawelson hadn’t seen his sister since she left for college in the fall. Despite this happy addition, it has been hard to do schoolwork with a ton of distractions.

“It’s been fun but being productive while being unproductive,” Schawelson says. By that, he means that he has been meeting deadlines for his assignments and attending his Zoom classes, but he has been procrastinating a lot due to all the distractions at home with his family and Netflix shows that he has been binge-watching.

“I think the fact that we have to be adjusting to at-home life has made it a lot harder. I feel like when I was at school we were finally getting to the scheme of things and things had a good flow,” he says. Schawelson misses being able to interact freely with his friends, walking around campus, and visiting Hillel.

Bander, Schawelson, and Friedman have leaned on the UA Hillel Foundation for support during this time. Hillel has held Shabbat services via Facebook Live, and broadcast some events such as the annual Holocaust vigil so students could participate. Schawelson led Hillel’s April 17 virtual Shabbat service.

Berkley Selvin

Berkley Selvin, a junior studying political science with an emphasis in law and public policy, is president of UArizona Hillel. She also has moved back in with her parents in the Phoenix area. Selvin says Hillel has been reaching out to students via the internet to help keep the Jewish community strong. In addition to weekly Shabbat services online, Hillel has been hosting Zoom hangouts for students. Hillel’s goal, she says, is to make sure Jewish students do not feel alone now when isolation can be so detrimental to one’s mental health.

“I think it’s more important now than ever to be involved because ultimately us sticking together and being able to cope with this whole thing is going to get us through it,” Selvin says.

She has enjoyed having time with her family, but like the others, she misses campus and longs for everything to go back to normal.

All four students say they have struggled with staying focused when classes and campus-related activities are online. Friedman says Zoom meetings are good for the circumstances but there can be issues during class due to Wi-Fi shortages or other computer problems. Bander says she has been signing up for classes next semester that are more suited to the virtual environment, in case classes remain online. Schawelson says that he is taking labs that are difficult to do online. However, if classes are online next semester, he will attend because he wants to delve more into his major, and the classes he would be taking in the fall would allow him to do so.

“I think this is going to impact me in the future,” Friedman says. “I will think more clearly about how important community is; I think that is something I take for granted. After this, I am sure once we are all together again and I can hang out with my friends at Hillel and lead services. I am going to take that and be very grateful for it.”