Wrapping up the first academic year

Well, the world is nothing like it was when I last wrote here.

I followed the novel coronavirus with concern and grief for the lives lost and the suffering endured in Wuhan throughout January, but could never have imagined that by late February, the Puget Sound region would become the first documented site of community spread in the United States. At the University of Washington, we wrapped up the final weeks of our winter quarter remotely. The official announcement of campus closures was made on my birthday. A rapid transition to remote courses for Spring (and later Summer), a statewide “Stay-at-Home” order, and seemingly endless tragedy in other parts of the country has made every day a struggle as much as a blur.

Because my responsibilities and commitments as a graduate student are pretty “all or nothing” for 10-12 week increments of time, I had originally planned to spend our Spring quarter on medical leave so that I could take two or three weeks to recover from a major surgery scheduled for March 24th (a date scheduled after months of delays from fighting insurance—and I should note that I did not prevail, but I am lucky enough to be able to utilize secondary insurance through my partner). Instead, by mid-March, elective (meaning all non-emergency) surgeries were halted in Washington so that we could preserve hospital resources, particularly PPE, for the urgent response to COVID-19. As we got closer to March, I thought a cancellation would be likely and I appreciate that my department was responsive in shifting plans so that I could move my RA rotation back to Spring.

My main recollections from this time are mostly around feeling rage at the absolute cruelty and cultivated incompetence of the federal government in securing adequate resources for states, having instead chosen to sacrifice lives to capitalism and also to…not even anything so coherent as that, in the beginning. I also felt purpose and joy and solidarity with my community in gathering and distributing resources and that was probably the only thing that kept me going. Timelines are blurry and I don’t feel a need to accurately recount facts in this place no one is reading, but some people in Seattle started up the Seattle Mask Brigade in March so in my free time, I started driving around picking up donations of N95 masks that people were generously donating to healthcare workers. There were a lot of community mutual aid initiatives and a lot of care. And then I got sick.

I feel like I should write more about it and maybe I will at some point, but there were some experiences that were somewhat traumatic and I haven’t quite processed yet. I guess I can just say that I was sick for all of April and two weeks of May with COVID-like symptoms but the antibody test for COVID-19 that I was able to get near the end of June was negative. I have asthma and am sensitive to respiratory illnesses (and also have ongoing chronic health issues, so it could have been a combination of symptoms), but whatever it was, it was unlike illnesses I’ve previously experienced. During this time, I was frantically trying to keep up with coursework and research and also deal with several traumatic events in my family-of-origin and it was just something I’m not ready to revisit.

But the upheaval did give me an opportunity to deviate from the first-year student course plan and experience courses that inspired and challenged me and directly spoke to the challenges of being alive right now. In the spirit of having a diary to reference, my spring quarter courses were:

  • GWSS 445 A – Feminist Science (Fiction) Studies
  • INSC 598 B – Applied Indigenous Research Methods (with a spotlight on COVID-19)
  • HCDE 596 – Directed Research Group: Exploring Liberation Tools for Re-enchantment
  • HCDE 547 – Academic Research Seminar

I was rotating with the CSC Lab again in the spring, and our research was timely and fulfilling and something that deserves a write-up with much more attention than I’m currently able to manage.