Quarantine Stories: Rollins and the COVID-19 Pandemic

The College Archives is actively working to document and preserve the narratives of our students, faculty, staff, and alumni who are, together, navigating the unforeseen challenge of COVID-19.

With this aim, we’ve developed a simple online portal that allows our community members to reflect upon and record their quarantine and remote learning or teaching experiences for posterity. We hope you’ll visit us at https://www.rollins.edu/library/archives/c19stories.html and share through words, video, and/or photos what this pandemic has meant for you as an individual and a member of our cherished Rollins community.

In this blog post, Marilyn Lopez ’20, a new graduate, and Prof. Fiona Robinson tell us about some of the ways COVID-19 has affected their lives. Thank you, Ms. Lopez and Prof. Robinson!

Please note: submissions featured on the Archives blog may be edited for length and clarity.

Marilyn Lopez ’20

(Photo: Courtesy of Marilyn Lopez)

How has life changed for you since COVID-19 began?

Living through this moment in life has taught me that we are blessed to have had so much technology to keep us connected; I felt like I was ripped from life as I knew it in a matter of days. Without modern technology to keep me connected to school, work, family, and friends I do not think I would have been able to modify my daily routine so quickly.

How are you staying connected to the people in your life and to others on campus during this period of social/physical distancing?

Through virtual rooms, phone calls, face time, and actually sitting at home in the living room with family after work is done for everyone.

What do you want people in the years to come to understand or know about this time period and your individual lived experience?

When this semester began, I thought the most difficult part would be to delicately balance a family, full time work, and a full time student schedule. Little did I know that having to work and attend class from home would become such a challenge when you also have to care for the safety and well being of your family. I went from wearing masks fashionably in my field study to Taiwan to having to learn how to sew them to keep my loved ones safe. My school shifted from rooms filled with books to connecting to my virtual classroom from my porch in the evenings. Through it all, I learned to value my professors, my team mates, and the time we spent together learning and sharing. I missed them immensely, but I knew that we were all together though we were apart.

Marilyn Lopez at her sewing machine (Photo: Courtesy of Marilyn Lopez)

Has this time inspired you in any way? Can you share how?

I have always had a passion for community engagement, but this pandemic has allowed me to realize that there are a lot of goodhearted people that are willing to put their life in the front lines for others without thinking twice. I saw humanity’s best come out and wrap the world with love, understanding, charity, and selflessness.

What else do you want to share?

I have dreamed of my graduation day for the last four and a half years, and even though I am 50 years old, I will be the first female in my family tree to attain a bachelor’s degree. I am so proud of myself, and if there was any doubt in anyone’s mind of their ability to attain a college degree at any age, I can attest for the fact that I even experienced a pandemic and still completed my degree. Perhaps, I will cherish my education even more now than ever before; nothing could stop me from my dream.

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Prof. Fiona Robinson

Department of Social Entrepreneurship

How has life changed for you since COVID-19 began?

When the closure of the school was announced I felt powerless. My concern was not for myself, but for the students, and especially for the many graduating students in my classes that would have to work through a forced goodbye. We had to transition to online … quickly. I took some comfort in my previous experience teaching and working online. I wasn’t sure how it would go, but I knew I wasn’t alone and took some solace in that reality.

Spring Break was not a break. It was madness, converting four courses into online models while also managing my own sense of risk and safety. Everything outside of the imaginary seal of my own apartment felt contaminated. As a visitor to the US that lives alone, I was weary of getting sick and becoming part of an unfamiliar health care system. I worried about my family back home and adopted the #stayhome tagline that everyone else did. I started getting groceries delivered and washed all my vegetables carefully in the sink with soapy water in accordance to various YouTube experts.

Home is my safe space from work; it wasn’t easy to have people dropping by and filling my space when I didn’t expect it. Even so, I decided early on to keep it casual. In the first week back I developed a habit of adjusting the pillows on my couch in the background of my web cam; by the end of the first week that habit was relaxed. I realized students didn’t need formality. They needed peace, normalcy and fun. I invited myself to be less formal in favour of easier-going conversation in the online environment and, yes, lots of laughter. If I was dressed with my hair done and prepared for class, that would be good enough on any given day.

I taught four courses in the Spring of 2020, which included ten classes per week. I found this challenging at the onset, and the pandemic made it worse. I felt extraordinary grief, especially when Covid19 was peaking in Italy, Spain, France, the UK and New York. I had a terrible time processing 900-plus deaths a day, and sometimes I would walk in the evenings and hold my own sort of vigil for the lives lost. The grief and course load together were exhausting. My energy needed to be reserved exclusively for teaching and I often had an “after teaching nap,” walking ten feet from my computer to my bed and crashing for a few hours at a time. I tried to keep things simple on the home front, adopting a “one-chore-a-day” principle to keep on top of things. Sometimes that meant loading the dishwasher one day, and emptying it the next.

On Earth Day I visited the empty Rollins Campus grounds to take advantage of the opportunity to pick from the campus garden. It was mostly picked over by the time I got there, but I got a papaya and took a photo with the banana tree. I sat in silence on the shore of Lake Virginia while an anhinga snaked through the water and then started its bobbing antics in shoreline shrubbery. It was a far cry from interacting with students and faculty every day, but I still felt connected, somehow.

Fiona Robinson at the campus garden (Photo: Courtesy of Fiona Robinson)

Teaching online had its joyful moments. I loved watching the students take ownership of the stage, sharing their presentations and engaging in our usual conversations. I especially enjoyed one-on-one meetings. I found students to be quite relaxed in their home environments with a sense of calmness I never experience during on-campus office meetings. My classrooms experienced a levity that I didn’t expect, and quite enjoyed.

As the various levels of government braced us for a full shut down in April, I made a list of things I wanted to keep doing, stop doing or start doing if this were, in fact, the end of the world. “Learn to play guitar” made it onto the bucket list of things I still wanted to do, and so I sourced a Canadian-made guitar from a Florida music shop and had it shipped to my door. This became a connection to home (Canada) that I otherwise couldn’t achieve. Learning guitar became an evening activity that gave me reprieve from stress and grief. It’s in these dark moments that I found beauty and was able to cultivate a peaceful state of mind.

Learning to be powerless in this pandemic became a powerful experience. One of which I’m happy to learn once, and move on from.

How are you staying connected to the people in your life and to others on campus during this period of social/physical distancing?

I’ve found that I don’t keep any closer to people than I used to. With family and loved [ones] thousands of miles away, I felt uniquely prepared to endure social distancing. I did miss going out on a Friday night with friends for a cup of coffee or a drink. Some of my colleagues kept things going with occasional web meet ups, which I really appreciated; however, they seemed less necessary with passing time. Eventually my introverted self fully rooted and I was comfortable being alone.

What do you want people in the years to come to understand or know about this time period and your individual lived experience?

We need to take things one day at a time. We don’t need to cram so much into every day. Learn to read body language and change your plans; you never know what someone else is going through and especially as teachers, we need to adapt.

Has this time inspired you in any way? Can you share how?

Without human interaction, I was reconnected with the beauty of nature. I got out my ‘real’ camera again and started taking nature photography. I enjoyed cardinals in my backyard every day and started learning other Florida bird species. Nature is so resilient and inspirational in times like this.

The Knowles Memorial Chapel Garden

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To share your story with us, please visit https://www.rollins.edu/library/archives/c19stories.html.

~by D. Moore, Archival Specialist

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