Tori Ruth, a sophomore psychology and classics major, sits on the stoop outside of their house on Bouvier Street near Berks on Oct 14. | COLLEEN CLAGGETT / THE TEMPLE NEWS


Tori Ruth, a sophomore psychology and classics major, learned to support friends and family during the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

hen Philadelphia recorded its first case of COVID-19 in March and universities across the city closed their campuses, Tori Ruth was suddenly alone.

Ruth’s boyfriend and their roommate headed home to be with family, but a food service job in Center City kept them in their apartment on Montgomery Avenue near Bouvier Street where for months, Ruth “wouldn’t spend time with anyone,” they said. 

That continued into the start of this fall, when the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on their normal campus life created a period of stress and anxiety for Ruth, a sophomore psychology and classics double major. The semester of social distancing made Ruth’s relationships more important for them to maintain and strengthen in the time spent apart from family and friends.

Ruth, a 20-year-old LGBTQ community member from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, has only had one “normal” semester in college so far. In the spring of their freshman year, Temple University closed its campus in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Ruth had to quickly move out of 1940 Residence Hall and find an apartment off campus. 

In Ruth’s time living alone during the summer, the anxiety they always struggled with worsened and they often felt isolated, wishing for someone nearby to talk to. It was a relief when their roommate returned to Philadelphia in August for the fall semester, especially because Ruth wouldn’t be attending classes in person.

“This pandemic made me figure out that I don’t like being alone,” Ruth said on Nov. 17. “I was kind of going a little stir-crazy.” 

In late July, as the fall semester approached, Ruth initially felt disappointed they would not reunite with their peers in the classroom, but Temple’s decision to hold most classes online made them feel safer as COVID-19 cases continued to rise across the nation, Ruth said on Aug. 24, the day classes began and the United States had counted 5.7 million COVID-19 cases.

Ruth originally had a Greek language class scheduled to be held in person, but it was switched online shortly before the fall semester started. Ruth had signed up for the rest of their classes to be online and didn’t plan to go to Main Campus unless needed.

Having their roommate around, who is a sophomore biology major, helped them feel less stressed about the changes to campus life because Ruth can talk to them without finding time for a phone call, something they had to arrange with their boyfriend and family members while living alone. 

“Even now, sometimes we don’t even have to really talk to each other to understand what the other person’s trying to get at or what they need or something,” Ruth said on Nov. 17. “I feel like she’s a shoulder I can lean on if I need it, and vice versa.”

As September approached, Ruth was overwhelmed, struggling to focus during their Zoom classes and keep track of work for their asynchronous online classes. They tried to get organized and implement effective study habits before their workload picked up.

Much needed good news came in late September when Ruth’s boyfriend, who attends Drexel University, told them he would be returning to Philadelphia, after living away and not seeing Ruth for more than six months. 

Previously, he and Ruth had struggled with communication while living apart during the pandemic. If the two fought, one could easily turn off their phone and ignore the other. When Ruth was at work, their boyfriend was in class. But with time, they connected by playing video games together and texting throughout the day. 

Now living together, the two worried about COVID-19 safety. For example, Ruth’s boyfriend wouldn’t talk to them when they come home from work until after they showered and changed clothes. But being able to communicate face-to-face about their needs helped their relationship immensely.

“We had to figure out how to do it without being able to sit each other down and talk,” Ruth said on Oct. 6. “That stayed, even when he came back.”

The two began visiting each other’s apartments frequently and talking to their boyfriend helped ease Ruth’s anxiety.

“Having him here kind of gives me some kind of outlet,” Ruth said on Nov. 17. “He doesn’t go to Temple, obviously, but he’s still dealing with how colleges are handling it.”

October brought midterm exams and Ruth lost motivation for online classes, finding them difficult to balance alongside their job, where they worked 25 to 30 hours a week at Shake Shack in Center City.

Every Wednesday, Ruth took classes from 10:30 a.m to 3 p.m., with two 10-minute breaks in between. They often needed to cram classwork into short periods to work as many hours as possible.

“If I miss this shift, that could mean I can’t pay this bill, it’s just stressors like that, that kind of prevented me from being able to fully dive into school sometimes,” Ruth said on Nov. 17.

Tori Ruth, a sophomore psychology and classics major, stands outside of their house on Bouvier Street near Berks on Oct 14. | COLLEEN CLAGGETT / THE TEMPLE NEWS

During October, Ruth also found time to make periodic trips to New Jersey to visit their parents, sometimes buying them lunch. Ruth’s parents have been experiencing homelessness since July after both losing their jobs in March amid layoffs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They lost their home in Cherry Hill as they couldn’t renew their lease because of debt, Ruth said. 

“I know they’re trying to make the best of a bad situation, but it stings,” Ruth said on Nov. 17. “I can’t do anything to help, I barely provide for myself sometimes.”  

This situation, while worrisome for Ruth, made them feel closer with their family. Ruth’s older brother, who previously lived with their parents, moved in with Ruth off campus in late October, something Ruth said “is kind of weird, but I don’t mind.”

“My relationship with my parents and my brother has probably strengthened,” Ruth said on Nov. 17. “During quarantine, we kind of had to lean on each other.”

Leading up to the presidential election, Ruth and their boyfriend watched coverage of it “like a hawk,” hoping former Vice President Joe Biden would be elected president.

The COVID-19 pandemic seemed like the peak of four bad years under President Donald Trump for Ruth, they said. With a new president, Ruth hoped the state of the country could start to turn around. 

When Biden was declared the winner of the election on Nov. 7, Ruth’s parents and their boyfriend were the first people they called from work. 

“My boss was like, screaming and jumping around, it was so funny,” Ruth said on Nov. 8. “It kind of felt like a sigh of relief.”

The day after the election, however, Ruth woke up with chest pain and a sore throat. They thought it was allergies, but as they got sicker during the next two days, they made an appointment at Temple University Student Health Services on Nov. 11 to be tested for COVID-19.

“I’m like running through my head because I’ve seen my parents in the last two weeks, I’ve been with my roommate, I’ve been with my boyfriend,” Ruth said on Nov. 13. “I’m thinking, ‘Okay, what’s gonna happen, how many people did I hurt?’”

Ruth tested negative for COVID-19 on Nov. 13, five days after their symptoms started, alleviating their fears they had potentially infected their mother, who has asthma and a chronic cough, and their father, who has diabetes.

A positive test would have also compromised Ruth’s plans to celebrate their birthday with their boyfriend and cook dinner with their family on Thanksgiving, so everyone in Ruth’s life seemed relieved to spend the holiday together. Ruth hosted Thanksgiving at their apartment and their parents and brother came over to make dinner. 

“It almost felt normal, almost like a regular holiday,” Ruth said on Dec. 3. “Knowing that I can at least see my parents get some food for a day, be with them and actually not be alone is great.”

On Dec. 14, Ruth woke up feeling a little nervous, as they would be saying goodbye to their boyfriend who was returning to his New Jersey home for the holidays. 

Last time Ruth said goodbye to him, three weeks away ended up becoming six months apart. But, this time, the two knew they could call each other and play video games together to feel connected while he was gone.

Ruth had four exams and a final portfolio due at the end of the semester. Though they weren’t thrilled that they may end up with a B+ in one or two classes as result of their time working and difficulty learning in Zoom classes, they didn’t stress about final exams. 

Ruth will still take all online courses in the spring but has scheduled them so they have no classes on either Tuesday or Thursday so they can take breaks from constantly balancing classwork and their job.

Still, Ruth was more focused on getting this semester over with so they can fully prioritize work during winter break.

“It hasn’t been a bad one, it’s just been an interesting one, I wouldn’t call it good either,” Ruth said on Dec. 14.


Jonathan Atiencia, a sophomore communication and social influence major, stands in the doorway of his parents’ house in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania on Oct. 12. | COLLEEN CLAGGETT / THE TEMPLE NEWS


Jonathan Atiencia, a sophomore communication and social influence major, saw his work in student government, classes and his friendships become more complicated by limitations of the COVID-19 pandemic.

onathan Atiencia’s morning routine was considerably shorter this semester without his usual hour-long commute to campus: sit up in bed, rub his eyes and open his laptop. 

Last year, he woke up at 6 a.m. each day to commute from Upper Darby, Pennsylvania to Main Campus in time for his 8 a.m. class. Now, he could log on to Zoom from his bed without even changing out of his pajamas. 

The extra sleep was welcomed, but not without feeling disconnected from Temple University and his peers.

For Atiencia, as long as he could stay safe from COVID-19, the Fall 2020 semester was nothing to worry about. After navigating an online class last spring, he felt confident he would do well in the fall and that avoiding getting himself or his family sick was worth missing Main Campus and his friends. 

But that assurance didn’t stop him from wishing he was learning side-by-side with his peers. 

“I do miss being at Temple and walking around campus and being with friends and meeting for in-person discussions,” said Atiencia, a sophomore communication and social influence major on Aug. 24, the first day of fall semester classes. “It’s kinda like, lonely to be at home with your parents, like doing nothing.”

Before Fall 2020, Atiencia, a 19-year-old continuing studies student who has a learning disability, was used to living with his parents, his younger brother, his dog, Cookie, and his cat, Mango, while attending in-person classes at Temple University. A typical semester for him involves taking one class and doing online tutoring twice a week to work on assignments.  

This semester he attended Analytical Reading and Writing online on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and online tutoring sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays, a big change from spending the majority of his days last year on Main Campus, going to class, participating in Temple Student Government meetings or getting lunch with friends. 

Without many reasons to leave his house, he began feeling isolated within the first few days of the semester. Still, he maintained the priorities he set while planning for the fall: keep his family safe and minimize traveling.

“I’m staying safe for my family, I’m being cautious about being on campus,” Atiencia said on Aug. 24. “I’m pretty worried and scared to go back. I wouldn’t go back to campus until there’s a vaccine from the government.”

He started to figure out his new routine within the first few weeks of classes but felt the workload was higher than in previous semesters when he was taking in-person courses. Atiencia often felt like there wasn’t enough time to complete his homework before more was assigned, and he spent the first few weeks of class figuring out how to be more organized and plan out his workload better than before. 

Jonathan Atiencia, a sophomore communication and social influence major, works on a paper for his English class on his laptop on Oct. 12. | COLLEEN CLAGGETT / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Online tutoring was huge assistance for Atiencia this semester as being able to meet with them kept him on top of his classwork.

“It’s been difficult to handle, I’ve been working separately on doing weekly assignments, then my essay assignments, so I separate it so my tutors help me,” he said. 

Early in the semester, as he followed COVID-19 cases rising on campus, he watched for Temple to cancel in-person classes because he worried about the risk for residents around Main Campus. Then, on Sept. 3, Temple suspended most in-person classes and he felt “relieved.”

Although the university’s decision didn’t affect his day-to-day routine, the COVID-19 case numbers on campus made him worry about how students living on or near Main Campus were affected by the sudden changes. He tries to think about these students and their needs in his work with TSG. 

For the last two years, Atiencia has advocated for the needs of students with disabilities like himself as the Disability Resources and Services representative in TSG’s Parliament.

In this role, Atiencia writes resolutions based on the needs of students with disabilities and works to get them passed through Parliament. He always tells students they can reach out to him through email, social media or in town halls about issues they are struggling with so that he can identify policies and resolutions to help.

But this semester, he had to consider how to get students the help they need at home, whereas in past years he was focused on campus resources and improvements. Atiencia tried to think about how to provide students with the help they are used to getting in the classroom, like assistance with note-taking, which may be harder to access virtually. 

“There’s been so much more to do with student government, we are trying to hear the Temple administration and to hear the students’ voices and let them know the concerns they have during COVID,” Atiencia said on Nov. 21. 

For example, an initiative he hoped to complete this semester was to help ensure campus facilities are compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. He passed the resolution for it in 2019 to form a task force that would begin verifying buildings on campus met these requirements by Spring 2020. But when Main Campus closed due to the pandemic’s onset in March, the assessment was postponed, he said.

“COVID came and prevented me from making that happen, so we never done actually some of the resolution policies that we want to have on campus,” Atiencia said. 

Without much interaction from student organizations like TSG or campus events, Atiencia began using social media sites like Facebook and Instagram more often in September. He would post about TV shows he’s watching, video games he’s playing and current events he’s interested in an effort to connect with others and combat loneliness.  

“It’s kind of lonely to have to talk to people online, I see other people on their Instagram profile having fun with other people, I don’t want to be by myself all the time,” Atiencia said on Sept. 22. 

But he found that watching comic book TV shows on his laptop, playing Resident Evil 4 with his brother on his Playstation 4 and walking Cookie could bring him joy too. 

Especially as October started to bring colder days, he loved to grab blankets and hot chocolate and watch a movie from the couch.

“That kind of thing makes me really happy, I don’t see that as loneliness, I see that as more constructive activity,” Atiencia said on Oct. 6. 

As October went on, he saw friends posting about the presidential election on social media and would join in and comment his thoughts about the presidential debates, President Donald Trump contracting COVID-19 and voter participation.

He voted by mail in mid-October and, although was disappointed to not get an “I Voted” sticker, he was able to temporarily relax about the election because he had already made as much of a personal impact as possible by voting.

Only two weeks later, though, he was anxiety-ridden. His TV was always set to the local news channel and he was constantly checking social media to see if a winner would be declared, as election results took multiple days to finalize in several states to count mail-in ballots.

“I’ve been watching the news day and night,” Atiencia said on Nov. 7, only hours after former Vice President Joe Biden was declared the winner of the presidential election. “It’s been giving me worries, but I’m feeling excited.”

When he heard about Biden’s victory, he immediately opened his Instagram account to post on his story and celebrate the news with friends.

Atiencia stayed busy in November with school work, filling out internship applications for the summer and preparing for an interview for an internship he hoped to get in Washington, DC with a disability and civil rights organization.

Next semester, Atiencia will continue in his routine: taking one class online from his room in his parents’ house, doing homework, playing video games and working on resolutions for TSG.

He successfully turned in his last two essays assigned for class on Dec. 10 and is patiently waiting on an email to see if he is hired for the internship. He isn’t worried about the spring because this semester went well for him and he feels next semester will be similar. 

“We’re staying positive, everything is going well with my family,” Atiencia said on Dec. 13. “I don’t think I would change anything from this semester.”

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