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ASSADI: Coronavirus has further revealed our inequality

Column: Dose of Reality

Yara Assadi is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in public health. Her column, “Dose of Reality,” typically runs on alternate Thursdays.
Yara Assadi is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in public health. Her column, “Dose of Reality,” typically runs on alternate Thursdays.

As the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic grows to be a larger issue than anticipated, there are unforeseen consequences other than the healthcare system overload that Americans are witnessing. 

We are seeing the largest economic downturn since possibly the Great Depression, we are seeing spikes in unemployment, we are seeing the worsening of mental health on a national level and we are witnessing the crumbling of a nation from the bottom-up. 

As a college student during this pandemic, along with millions more, I am adjusting to the drastic change in our learning experience. This shift from classrooms, although necessary in the fight against this pandemic, is harmful to students on multiple fronts. 

I find it very difficult to focus for an extended period of time, staring down my laptop rather than sitting in a classroom with other students who are also focused and with a professor who can make eye contact with their students and project his or her voice to keep us engaged. Engaging with the classroom is critical to engaging with the information that we are studying in it. 

Outside of the coursework itself, I am also having difficulty creating a new schedule for myself under these circumstances. At college, I have a routine that includes my class schedule, my fitness, my eating and even my downtime.

Now, I am indoors and still fulfilling the same strenuous coursework that I have as a premedical student, someone maintaining my extracurriculars, sitting for extended periods of time only to get up occasionally to walk around the house, grab food, only to come back 10 minutes later to my next timed lecture. 

Humans are creatures of habit and social connection, and derailing them on the track to academic success, fitness and social life can drive down morale in an already-stressed student population. 

I have had many friends contact me with the chorus of “Social distancing is so hard!” and “I cannot focus in my classes when it is a FaceTime call.” And I empathize.

This is not a time for me to forget my privilege. I recognize my privilege to receive a college education especially at a university such as Rutgers. I recognize my privilege having not only shelter, but also a house to call home and food in the fridge when I am hungry. I am privileged because I have high-speed internet in my home and the ability to get another router while my siblings are also transitioning to online schooling. 

I am lucky to have clothes that will help me through the winter months and to have a heating system in my home. I am privileged to have a safe neighborhood to walk in when I want to get fresh air and exercise. I am privileged that I am able-bodied and able to take care of myself at a time when medical assistance may be slowed or even brought to a halt due to containment measures of this pandemic. 

I am lucky that my parents are not healthcare workers in an industry that is currently short-staffed, has many underpaid and overworked laborers and personnel that put their lives at risk to heal the sick and rehabilitate the weak. This is not the time to forget the amazing and essential work done by our healthcare professionals, but also to our workers that sanitize our hospitals and medical offices. They will encounter the virus, and our health and safety rely on them carrying out their jobs. 

With this extra alone time, it is now that we should reflect as students and young people with certain privileges. Although the threat to our mental health and professional tracks is a valid concern, we must not forget that somewhere in America, someone else is suffering to a degree that we cannot imagine. I addressed privilege because it seems to be conveniently left out of the national conversation surrounding this economic meltdown. In moments of crisis, inequality becomes more tangible, and privilege becomes more transparent. 

Although this is a brutal period of time, with uncertainties about unemployment, education, healthcare and safety, we must stand in solidarity with those who will not be able to put food on the table tomorrow and those who were not able to put food on the table yesterday. While celebrities are hunkering down in safe-houses and stocking up on supplies and water, you will see the people that never had shelter in the first place. 

The banks can rest assured that they will receive their bailout from the government, but America’s citizens do not have that same confidence — nor should they. History shows that this level of inequality has become the infrastructure the whole country rests on. Banks are now “too big to fail,” which means that a bank failing will hurt millions of Americans. 

Millions of Americans have been suffering because we have not built an infrastructure that allows for a proper safety net for those Americans. They are our day-laborers, our hotel staff, our restaurant chefs, our contractors. Americans without a 401k offered, our uninsured Americans, our single-mothers, our homeless. 

This crisis made a bad situation worse, but let us not be naive to think that these people only began suffering once this pandemic began. This is the time for us to stand in solidarity with those who were stretching themselves thin to survive in the first place. 

Yara Assadi is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in public health. Her column, “Dose of Reality,” typically runs on alternate Thursdays.


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