Letter from the Editors
We became editors-elect of The Maroon on February 10, 2020. One month and one day later, we helped our predecessors break the news that the University would pivot to remote instructionfor the spring quarter. The specter of COVID-19 has hung over our entire tenure, and the issue in your hand or on your screen is a product of remote collaboration.
We have not had access to our office in Ida Noyes since March 17, 2020. To produce The Maroon, the three of us became a “bubble,” and at times it’s felt like things have always been this way: a world the size of three apartments and the grocery store; the faces of our staff seen in inch-high boxes on a computer screen with the day’s news in another box beside them. It’s a strange experience to see your own life captured in a series of news articles, but that’s what thisyear has been.
We look back on this year as one of so much, and so little. Our daily routines have often felt like unending monotony, and we know we’re not the only ones to have felt the joy and intellectual community of a place like the University of Chicago muffled and compressed into a series of Zoom meetings and emails. Though losing a year of college pales in comparison to the loss of life that has resulted from the pandemic, we find ourselves experiencing a shared grief over the loss of immaterial elements of non-pandemic life. No matter its cause, grief takes up the space available to it and demands a reckoning. This issue is an account of how our worlds have changed over the past year and an attempt to record what we have lost, both big and small.
While we were putting together this issue, a copy editor currently living outside the U.S. remarked to us that this country is a singular example in its choice of consumption over lives and its dismissal of bare minimum public health requirements around travel, masking, and other mitigation measures. We’re living in a country where half a million people are dead because of the virus and almost one in three Americans have contracted COVID-19.
Through this pandemic we continued to produce a printable newspaper in digital form despite the fact that it would never actually find itself on a page. Our reporters, most of whom we haven’t seen since last winter, worked from bedrooms across the world, having to adjust to communicating across time zones and reporting on a city they were thousands of miles away from. They are nothing short of remarkable and their commitment pushed us to continue doing all we could to document this time.
This issue is a result of their perseverance. It is by and for everyone who weathered this year, whether they are affiliated with the University or not. It contains stories of learning to adapt, advice for when things feel insurmountable, and memories of those who lost their lives and livelihoods to the virus. It also has some glimpses of what our lives will look like when this comes to an end.
We are proud of our staff beyond the words we could put on this page. They have sat for hours with us on Zoom, met us for masked walks when it was far too cold to be doing so, and shared photos of their pets. They balanced their schoolwork, Maroon commitments, and caring for siblings, parents and roommates. They dropped bread on our doorsteps and sent meticulous reporting to our inboxes, and helped The Maroon tell the story of this—dare we say it?— unprecedented time. We are preparing to leave the paper to new editors-elect: three astonishingly driven and capable student journalists who have weathered this year with so muchgrace. We are so excited for them to return to the basement of Ida Noyes.
- The Maroon breaks the news that UChicago will have an entirely remote spring quarter on March 11.
- University of Chicago Laboratory Schools pivot to a remote spring quarter.
- Dining halls serve the last sit-down meal service on March 16.
- A Chicago Booth student is the first case of COVID-19 reported at UChicago on March 17.
- University libraries close.
- Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker issues a stay-at-home order on March 20.
- Residence halls close on March 22.
- The University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC) enacts a universal-masking policy.
- Mayor Lori Lightfoot closes the lakefront to facilitate Chicagoans’ social distancing.
- University administrators announce that campus buildings will start to have restricted access regarding who may enter.
- UCMC taps perioperative nurses to cover staffing shortages due to COVID-19 on April 15.
- The University announces that the 533rd convocation will not be held on campus.
- Dining halls serve the last sit-down meal service on March 16.
- Provost Ka Yee Lee announces that the University will not reduce tuition in response to remote learning after a month-long campaign by UChicago for Fair Tuition.
- The University announces it will begin resuming research activities.
- President Robert Zimmer announces the University will lose about $220 million due to the pandemic, not including losses in the medical division.
The Reverend Maurice Charles misses his students and congregation. Charles misses the people filling up Rockefeller Chapel and the students visiting his office. He misses knocking on doors and asking people about their feelings.
“I just officiated my first Zoom funeral. It was a secular, beautifully done service by Zoom, and I really felt it deeply afterwards, in part because people were kind of hanging around and not saying anything. You can’t quite mingle in the same way; it needed to end, and there were no hugs or anything, and so that was tough. And when we signed off, I immediately felt it because I was here alone,” Charles said.
The pandemic made it harder to connect in many different ways. One thing Charles, who started at the chapel only shortly before the pandemic bore down, noticed was that the Church did not have a registry of its congregation. No longer able to mingle at the back door, Charles could also not send out messages of support to everyone.
“Some of the most meaningful conversations I have are conversations where I bump into people. Because of my role, if I bump into you, if I ask how people are doing, people tell me the truth. Or, shall I say, they tell me the details. I feel like I’m missing a lot. I feel like I always have a pervasive feeling of feeling like I’m not doing enough for people, no matter what I'm doing, and I truly miss it,” Charles said.
Charles’s feelings about virtual connections are complicated. While he reminisces about the days where he could interact with people in person, he also thinks fondly of the virtual interactions he has had with old friends.
“Everything went virtual, and those barriers dropped. So I’ve had more conversations with close friends, some of whom were students here while I was here the first and the second time, and had a kind of an informal mini-reunion. So suddenly my circle of friends has expanded, because we’re all virtual, which has been nice,” Charles said.
- The University announces that it will adopt a hybrid model for the autumn quarter, with a mix of virtual and socially distanced, in-person classes.
- The University accepts $6.2 million of CARES Act funding to cover institutional costs and distribute financial support to students.
- To mitigate the projected $220 million deficit, the University announces optional and mandatory staff furloughs, pay cuts for administrators, and hiring freezes.
- The Maroon learns that faculty will have the chance to choose between an in-person or remote format for their classes.
- Lee announces the UChicago Health Pact. Students must complete a COVID-19 training program and submit a form attesting to their compliance with the University’s new policies.
- Members of the UChicago community are encouraged to urge those not adhering to COVID-19 measures to follow the UChicago Health Pact. The UChicago Forward page outlines different scenarios for dealing with students and faculty. To avoid confrontational situations, campus community members are advised to report incidents—in detail—to supervisors or to the University’s Accident/Incident Reporting System (UCAIR).
- Lee announces testing, tracing, and isolation measures that will be in force during the school year for University members.
- Prior to arriving on campus for the 2020–21 academic year, students are required to complete a COVID-19 training program and submit a form attesting to their compliance with the University’s new policies.
- Dorm room assignments—including those within apartments—are single-occupancy, and dining halls are capped at a maximum capacity of 75 percent. A meal-delivery program provides students in quarantine with their meals.
- Snell-Hitchcock and Stony Island Hall are turned into “isolation housing.”
- First-years move into housing for a mostly remote O-Week. Arrival testing shows two out of 910 tests positive in the first batch of 1,588 tests.
- The University activates three testing programs: a symptomatic testing program for those who have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus or are themselves experiencing symptoms, a weekly mandatory surveillance testing program for all asymptomatic members of the campus community who are living in UChicago’s residence halls, and a weekly voluntary surveillance testing program for undergraduates, faculty, postdoctoral researchers, and staff who will frequent the campus but do not live in residence halls.
- Lee announces that winter quarter will begin a week later than scheduled for every division but the law school and says University members should expect to retain the “hybrid” model for winter and spring quarters.
- Students who leave campus for Thanksgiving must remain away from campus until the beginning of winter quarter.
- The University announces a projected $150 million loss for the coming year.
John and Monica Flynn have been married for 42 years. They met as freshmen in college and now have seven adult children. Now the resident deans of Renee Granville-Grossman Residential Commons East, their first year as resident deans has been challenging. However, that does not stop John and Monica from looking back on quarantine with smiles.
“If you were to ask me, these past seven or eight months have been just a gift. John works quite a bit. He’s always in the office six, seven days a week, so to have [John and our children always be in the house or in the dorm has been a real treat for me. You know how lucky you are to have that time with your best friend?” Monica said.
John is the chief physician and dean for clinical affairs at UChicago Medicine. Since COVID-19 hit, he has been working primarily from home. He enjoys spending time at home and being able to see some of his kids for a few weeks at a time. His former work schedule often prevented him from spending significant amounts of time with his wife. When asked about spending long periods of time with Monica, he jumped into a story of a trip the couple took a few years ago where they had uninterrupted quality time together.
“We circumnavigated Lake Michigan in a counterclockwise fashion. That was great fun, just the two of us and the dog. We basically had no strong itinerary, we just knew we wanted to go around the lake, and we stopped wherever we were ready to stop. [We] biked throughout many national parks, and it was great fun,” John said.
Both John and Monica were grateful for the extra time together. Their quarantine experience was significantly better because they had each other, they said.
“We’ve done a lot of baking and a lot of eating it,” Monica laughed.
While Jasper Koota began talking about the friends he made while working for the Biden presidential campaign, the conversation resulted in him waxing poetic about his car. Koota was in Nevada when he got the news that the Biden campaign was suspending in-person events. He jumped in his car and drove from Arizona to his hometown of Delmar, New York. On the way, he slept in his car to avoid hotels and potential COVID-19 exposure. His relationship with his car, which he nicknamed Zeke, started when he first arrived in Iowa on the first day of his Biden campaign fellowship in September.
“It was September [of 2019] and I flew there with one duffel bag, which was so dumb.... My worldview has changed a lot. But I was coming with one duffel bag out of a very small town and I forgot how the world operated.… I was picked up at the airport and dropped off at this dude named Bruce’s house,” Koota said.
After being hired as a full-time organizer, he realized he needed a car to get around the state and later travel the country. Koota called Bruce to ask about getting a car that would fulfill his needs without breaking the bank. He was directed to a friend of Bruce’s who showed him a 2005 Ford Escape. Zeke was a bit of a fixer-upper, but accompanied Koota from Iowa to California. In March, Koota again took Zeke across the country, this time from Arizona to New York.
“I drove basically 3,000 miles from Arizona to New York. I was very afraid to sleep in hotels because at this point, we didn’t really know anything. I think the first night, I was sleeping in my car at a rest stop in New Mexico because it was terrifying,” Koota said.
His fondest moments over the last few months have included Zeke. He went on a pre-COVID road trip with his girlfriend at the time, ate chicken nuggets in the backseat before almost being towed, and watched the sunset every night during the long drive back. Koota smiled fondly when remembering the sunsets.
“It would be, like, three hours because that’s how long it took the sun to set, because of the big sky of the Southwest, and there’s just no mountains except the horizon, and you just watch all these different colors happen. Driving for so long was so boring, but every night there’d be a sunset to look forward to,” Koota said.
- UCMC begins its vaccination campaign among staff.
- The University announces that it will open a vaccination clinic for phases 1c and 2 of the vaccine rollout.
- The University announces it has removed several students from their housing in Campus North. In general, COVID-19 related offenses are categorized based on location (housing or dining halls) and whether students live on campus. Depending on the severity and frequency of the offenses, consequences range from written warnings to expulsion.
- UChicago Forward’s FAQ page states, “Ignoring the public health risks associated with gatherings, as well as serious violations of other requirements, will have consequences for individual students and their groups—whether they are part of an RSO or other type of group (including off-campus Greek organizations). Violating the requirements in the attestation could result in severe disciplinary action, including but not limited to suspension of access to campus.”
- The University announces that the 534th Convocation will be mostly remote, with a socially distant, in-person diploma ceremony tentatively planned.
- The University vaccinates almost 900 people against COVID-19 as part of phase 1b of the City’s immunization program.
Saba Ayman-Nolley first feared for developing countries as COVID-19 began rapidly spreading across the world last year. Ayman-Nolley is the president of the Hyde Park and Kenwood Interfaith Council, which oversees community food banks and refugee aid projects. As the coronavirus made its way to Chicago in March, she was increasingly concerned about its impact on her own community and the people she serves. She is sociable and typically energetic, but the responsibilities and fears of late have taken a toll on her.
“I think you would have to be scientifically blind not to be frightened. I always get concerned worldwide, because I know how often this hurts developing countries and communities in need. So I had that kind of fear,” Ayman-Nolley said.
Ayman-Nolley’s father, whom she and her sister help care for, is 90 years old. In the early days of the pandemic, she described the experience as “intense.”
“[My sister] moved in with my father. We all live next door to each other, and my sister and I share the care of my father. She’s the primary caregiver. But then, my sister fell in the kitchen and called me, and there was no choice—I had to go over there, I had to pick her up. I had to put stuff on her arm and finish cooking the dinner she was cooking,” Ayman-Nolley said.
Ayman-Nolley also had to manage her adult children’s exposure to the virus. She describes the conversations they have about who to see and how to stay safe. She and her adult children, who live nearby, did not meet in person and exchanged food by dropping it off outside the door. Her daughter moved in with Ayman-Nolley and started showing symptoms, adding to the anxiety.
“It feels very strange when your own adult gets out of a chair. And then you go with an alcoholic wipe and clean everything she touched on the chair because she was sick. I continued to apologize to her and she finally got tested, but it was an early time. Those tests were taking weeks to come back. So I was scared to hear. We waited two weeks or more; I cannot remember how long it went on, but I was afraid,” Ayman-Nolley said.