Previous fall quarters at UC Santa Cruz held an expectation of frosh and veteran slugs alike carrying moving boxes, bubbling with the exciting prospect of starting a new journey in higher education. But with the UC system’s transition to mostly online teaching to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, many UCSC students and faculty members must acclimate to a two-dimensional landscape this fall. 

New Student Life 

First-year Michael Pucci lives in a College Ten dorm, and is one of about 1,000 students who will live on campus this quarter. 

Pucci says his mental health has benefitted from being on campus. He also says the UCSC community of students living on-campus this fall has banded together, even while remaining apart. 

“The people in the environment created here so far are my favorite thing on campus,” Pucci said. “I’m even saying ‘hi’ to people. It feels so natural because we’re all living in the same area and all doing the same things — attending classes and trying to make a career out of whatever we’re studying or hoping to do.”  

This fall, 4,100 first-years are getting their first taste of UCSC through remote learning. 

Most frosh get accustomed to academic life through their college core courses, said Manel Camps, UCSC professor in microbiology and environmental toxicology and Crown College provost. Core classes are designed to prepare frosh for university curricula, while also providing an intimate platform for instructors of these courses to connect with students as they learn to navigate an institution like UCSC. 

Camps said the material discussed in the Crown core classes stayed mostly the same during the move online. But a clear loss, he said, was the lack of intimate discourse between students and faculty. 

Illustration by Isabel Tran.

“The networking aspect has been affected in many ways, most notably is with your peers and with your instructors,” Camps said. “In my class, I have office hours. And that’s the opportunity for students to get to know me. Now only two or three students out of 110 will come to office hours. Before I would get maybe 10, which is not a lot, but now it’s even less.” 

Moving Digitally 

“In the week between winter 2020 finals and the beginning of spring 2020, nearly 1,900 UCSC courses had to be moved fully online,” said professor of literature and director of the Center for Innovations in Teaching and Learning Jody Greene. 

She says this quarter will be unlike any other — not only because of the switch online, but also because of the pandemic. 

“This will never feel normal. But that’s not because remote teaching couldn’t feel normal or online learning couldn’t feel normal,” said Greene “What was strange to me is that almost 100% of the time people attributed the difficulty learning to [Zoom]. And they didn’t think to remember that everyone is traumatized because they’re in a pandemic. And I don’t think it’s going to feel normal in a pandemic.” 

Teachers and student leaders alike are making the best of remote work.

Student organizations are creating online programming for their members. For the Sabrosura Latin Dance Troupe, this means more time to discuss Latin American and Caribbean history alongside their dance routines. For more on how other organizations are managing the switch to online, read City on a Hill Press’s Q&A here

UCSC Student Union Assembly (SUA) President Shivika Sivakumar said many students today are already so used to social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook that most student organizations already use these platforms as a way of communicating with their members. 

Sivakumar, alongside the SUA and UCSC Dean of Students Garrett Naiman, moderated a livestream on Instagram discussing the effects of the CZU Lightning Complex wildfires on the UCSC campus on Aug. 21. She hopes in the future to host more events like these to make resources accessible for students in need. 

“This year, we want to try to engage with students as much as possible, especially in this online world,” Sivakumar said. “We’ve been making surveys and using social media and any kind of platform to connect with students, give them the information, and ask what they need.”

Teachers have been acclimating to the online platform with mixed results endemic to Zoom. 

Zoombombing is a term for interrupting Zoom meetings by, at times, forcefully sharing inappropriate images or videos with the session. CHP reported in April 2020 that there were 15 cases of Zoombombing at that point in spring quarter.

“In the first weeks of the spring quarter it became clear that our own students had gone on to Reddit and basically, Tinder-matched with trolls who wanted to come and disrupt classes,” said literature professor Jody Greene. “It would be one thing if the trolls were just coming and hacking their way into the classes, but they got into the classes because our own students gave them the keys. […] Yeah, that is the closest that I’ve ever come to leaving higher education altogether.”

Greene said students are more prone to act out because of the instability surrounding their education this academic year. She believes giving students structure in their curriculum while still remaining flexible helps the UC system maintain its acclaim while providing students with care. 

Although there are many downsides to this switch in teaching, Greene said in certain respects her job has become more convenient, as she now has the ability to pre-record lectures and host an unlimited number of audience members at events with guest speakers. 

Microbiology and environmental toxicology professor and Crown College provost Manel Camps says although the move to online has been difficult, it has given UCSC a chance to foster a new style of education going forward. 

“While this has been a crisis, a major crisis that has negatively impacted everybody, we’re trying to also see the opportunity in this,” Camps said. “We are now able to utilize technology in a way that we never could exactly before.”