FINDING JOY IN AN ONLINE WORLD
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.
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.”