College During COVID-19 Blog: Faith Castle

College During COVID-19

Editor’s Note: KXAN’s interns are both learning about the news and living it — experiencing virtual learning and changes in their college and universities because of the coronavirus pandemic. Each is keeping a weekly blog about their experiences during the spring 2021 semester. See other interns’ blogs here.

Information Overload

As a young student journalist, I’m always looking for the next pitch. Maybe not as often as the professionals, but my ears and eyes remain curious 24/7. It’s not only my job, but it’s my duty. In this COVID-19 pandemic, reporters have been on level 100 consistently reporting on vaccines, stimulus checks, and misfortune in our changing world. It keeps them on their high toes, but it’s devasting and overwhelming at times. However, I’m proud and inspired by the quality of work I’ve seen by reporters in this pandemic. I often wonder why I can’t do the same, or “reach their level”. Knowing there are hundreds of stories waiting to be told, I’m frustrated when it seems like I can’t find one. The news has always been and will always be, but this era is nothing like we’ve experienced.

I go back to my drawing board, or as some would say “reporter’s notepad” and start from square one. Why journalism? Why report? Why would this pitch even matter? The voice we can give to the voiceless changes narratives, inspires and spreads knowledge. The real question is, “what is a story without a subject?”

As the president of my school’s National Association of Black Journalists chapter, I decided to implement this concept into a project. As a chapter, we’re taking the last few weeks of school to tell stories through a simple audio story. For students, it can feel overwhelming to piece every piece of the puzzle. Just reporting and hitting record, can remind us all to hit record, ask the right questions, and listen.

Three. Two. One. *SAY CHEESE*  

As I prepare to take my graduation photos, I didn’t envision finishing my senior year taking most of my classes online, having little to no contact with friends, and foreseeing graduation where only two guests are allowed.   

Many people mourn the loss of senior year and graduation with me in some sort of solidarity. But my mind is filled with anxious thoughts about finding employment. It seems as if graduating in-person with limited guests isn’t even the worst part of it all. However, as I’ve learned to do throughout this pandemic, I’m counting my blessings.   

Starting from one, I’m grateful for in-person graduation. I have many friends who didn’t get in-person graduation, and even with a “do-over” option in September, many have moved on from all collegiate ties. Secondly, I can buy a new fit or two, let a professional touch up my hair and makeup, and prepare early for my upcoming grad photo sessions. Many of my friends had to delay or compromise their grad photos with last year’s quarantine restrictions.   

Aside from these graduation privileges, I’m just grateful to receive this education. The University of Texas has proved repeatedly, that it’s not perfect, nor will it ever be. But its endless amounts of opportunities and world-class faculty have led to me try and learn things beyond my imagination.   

It’s a blessing to type this blog as I learn from the professionals here at KXAN. The fact that my fingers are full of energy, blood flowing, and ready to type is all that I could ever ask for. So when the photographer counts “three, two, one”, I’ll make to do the same. 

“A New Day Is on the Horizon”  

With the rise of the COVID-19 vaccine doses being administered, we hope for better days. With spring break approaching and college students going out more and more, we fear of worse days.  

My eyes can no longer take another zoom square, I don’t remember what the outside looks like, and friends seem to grow further and further away. As I see people move on, I somehow feel stuck in quicksand. The contrast between the vast number of vaccines being administered and the vast number of people still dying from COVID-19 polarizes my thoughts. Is the new day on the horizon? Has the new day already come? Is the somewhat virtual reality our new day?  

I remember an acceptance speech Oprah Winfrey gave for her lifetime achievement at the 2018 Golden Globes. She proudly burst into a saying, “A new day is on the horizon” as the crowd of actors burst into applauses and cheers. Her words gave people sitting near and far, a sense of hope. This hope would take women into a new era where change was enacted, and a reality for a voice formed into fruition.  

Perhaps, like Oprah’s strong statement, a new day is on the horizon, but it seems so far away. 

“Help is on the way”

This week, I’m currently working with a reporter on a mental health story about those affected by the recent winter storms. One thing that stood out to me was how these residents wondered if they were the only ones with new arising feelings and mood changes— ultimately leading to loneliness.
Throughout this pandemic, we’ve seen spurts of loneliness spread almost as fast as the virus itself. Amid the already recommended stay-at-home order, masks give us the option to quietly not respond, and the zoom ‘camera off’ mode allows us to fade in the background. Our opportunity to be alone has grown more than ever as we become mandated introverts.

Even though it’s logical to be as safe and adapt as quickly to the new world, that doesn’t make it easy. With Abbott’s recent recommendations, we witness businesses opening up faster than we are opening ourselves. The vaccine is stimulating our world in the right direction, but people are still sick with both COVID-19 and/or the illness of loneliness.

My greatest hope is that one can find themselves near and dear to confide in. You may have roommates, a partner, or friends to live with, but that isn’t enough. Pre-COVID-19 pandemic showed us that loneliness can still be present, so having people around isn’t always the solution. This week I called my best friend to sit on the phone with me as we finished our assignments. It took me back to the days we spent goofing around at the Perry-Castenada Library at UT. Florescent lights flickered, many students pacing back and forth struggling to find a seat in the crowded space, and an aroma of Expo markers spreads throughout the floor. My peers and I sometimes slightly complained about how ugly and chaotic the PCL was. I realize, I took advantage of those long nights. When it seemed as if we were getting nothing done, staring at the same problem over and over again, we still had each other. The companionship made getting through a chemistry class as a journalism major, doable.
As I finish up this story on mental health, I hope that these residents will find the help they need. Whether that’s professional help or a phone call with a friend, help is on the way.

“Finding My Rhythm”

“And the Beat Goes On” is the title of one of my favorite hits by an old groove band, The Whispers. This title embarks how I’ve felt during this pandemic, and even more so after last week’s winter storm. When life hits hard, we must continue to move with rhythm because its beat remains steady. I have friends who still have cold water, know of residents who lack living resources, and interact with everyday humans who are readjusting to their normal routine – all within the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I wish I could write that I easily found my rhythm again, but I missed a few steps along the way. It’s easy to beat ourselves up for not catching all of the right moves. I fooled myself into believing that this was an innocent snow day, and I was going back to school. It was from that. We experienced a winter storm, a loss of time, only to go back to a virtual world.
When learning a new routine, making mistakes is bound to happen. I’m sure even The Whispers messed up a few times when writing that song. Luckily, with practice comes learning. Hopefully, I’ll find my flow and rhythm again.

“Brain Freeze”

This week amid the big Texas winter storm, I found myself in a frozen state. No school, no motivation, no warmth, and no power. Who knew school could be cancelled even if it was already virtual?

During these days, I wanted to be productive and take advantage of any power I had, but I found myself with a sort of brain freeze. When you’re living in a storm within a pandemic, it’s hard to find that rushing motivation to be the best student. Even with classes and meetings cancelled, no sources available for my journalism stories, and a lack of food, I found myself being disappointed that I wasn’t producing an immense amount of work. With this sudden brain freeze, I found myself stuck in the uncomfortable awkwardness of inactivity. However, I realized in times like these I could find warmth in the love and camaraderie of local friends and peers. When I had to evacuate my apartment earlier this week, it was the giggles and conversations I had with my roommate as we walked to a new shelter that warmed me. As my power went out on Friday, it was my boss’s understanding that warmed me. When we were hungry and low on food, it was the free breakfast provided by UT Austin professors that warmed me.

When having a brain freeze, maybe you’ll find warmth through the kindness and patience of others.

Love in the cold air”  

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, I hope that people find more love and compassion within these tragic times. I often wonder if we loved as much as we advertised sweet candies and flowers, where we would be now.

It seems the desire to take care of each other has slowly vanished as we all try to cope with loss in all forms. I’ve found this sort of love through the patience of my professors and peers. When technology fails, mental health crashes and the weight of the world seems a little heavier than most days, we help each other. This kind of love isn’t exemplified through the chocolate covered strawberries they’re selling in West Campus, Austin. It’s shown when my professor’s power goes out, we patiently wait, and she does us the favor of recording the lecture. While it seems like we’ve been in an everlasting snow day for almost a year, there are so many new challenges that arise. Quarantining in this cold weather, I find myself experiencing a snow day within a snow day. It’s the patience others exude that helps me get through. This is the kind of love I found this Valentine’s season, and I wish others find it, too. 

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