SUWANEE, Ga. — College was supposed to be my ticket to financial security. My parents were the first ones to go to college in their family. My grandpa said to my mom, “You need to go to college, so you don’t have to depend on a man for money.” This same mentality was passed on to me as well.
I had enough money to last until May— $1,625 to be exact — until the coronavirus ruined my finances.
My mom works in human resources. My dad is a project manager for a mattress company. I worked part time at the university’s most popular dining hall and lived in a cramped house with three other students. I don’t have a car. I either walked or biked a mile to attend class. I have student debt and started paying the accrued interest last month.
I was making it work until the coronavirus shut down my college town. At first, spring break was extended by two weeks with the assumption that campus would open again in late March, but a few hours after that email, all 26 colleges in the University System of Georgia canceled in-person classes and closed integral parts of campus.
UGA professors are currently remodeling their courses and revising their syllabuses for online learning. Students were advised to not return to the campus at Athens from their vacations or hometowns. Our May graduation ceremony was even canceled without any hope of rescheduling it for a future date.
After this news, one of my housemates drove for 12 hours to her mom’s house in Chicago. Another gave me a few rolls of toilet paper and left with her boyfriend for a neighboring county.
The dining hall I worked at remained open. UGA allowed to-go meals for those still living in their dorms without a place to go. Student workers who didn’t leave for the break could call in and ask to work their usual shifts, but on many occasions, the staff wouldn’t answer the phone.
So far, an athletics trainer and honors student have tested positive for the coronavirus. They were last on campus on March 6. As of Tuesday, one person has died in the Athens hospital. Some students are asking for the semester to end with a pass-fail grading scale. This would help those without access to Wi-Fi or a distraction-free environment. I didn’t even have a personal laptop to use until a few weeks ago. It broke in November and I couldn’t afford to fix it until recently.
What if I had to do intensive schoolwork on a lagging smartphone? For the last three years, I have relied on the libraries and other on-campus resources like interlibrary loans and the bus system in order to complete my coursework. Now, the university is refunding us around $128 for services that we may need for a semester online.
I pivoted my plans. I thought I could find another restaurant job in Athens or hopefully an internship during the summer until I could apply to grad school again. Those odds are not in my favor anymore. Many restaurants here have closed indefinitely or only offer takeout options. They are not hiring anytime soon.
A local coffee shop and bar, Hendershots, has started a GoFundMe for their out-of-work employees with around $10,000 raised so far. Just the Tip: Athens Virtual Tip Jar also allows regular customers to send their favorite servers tip money they would normally leave on a night out. Many service industry workers my age have added their names to this list.
Not all college students are gallivanting across the white sand beaches of Florida without a care in the world. This pandemic affects young people too. Our future depends on the efforts of the national and state governments. Coronavirus testing is extremely limited in Georgia. For its 10.52 million residents, only 100-200 state tests are available each day.
“The state does not have the capacity to test those with mild symptoms,” said Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, in a news conference call last week.
On Thursday night, Athens-Clarke County unanimously passed an ordinance that enforces social distancing and a “shelter in place” rule, eliminating nonessential travel and large gatherings. Over 60 percent of the city’s population — the homeless, elderly, and those with pre-existing conditions — are susceptible to Covid-19.
Local grocery stores had already limited their hours and lacked essential food items like beans, rice and paper goods, showcasing barren shelves. I had a panic attack, looking at items marked “out-of-stock” on the Instacart app and watching peers post photos online. I asked my mom if I could come home.
We drove through the empty Atlanta highway, away from my struggling college town. Now, I am back in Suwanee with dwindling savings, still having to pay rent until the end of my lease in July. I won’t have an income to pay it.
For college students like me, the current solutions are: File for unemployment! Find a job at Kroger or Aldi at the detriment of your physical health! Call your potentially toxic parents! Tax refund! Personal loan! Sell your belongings!
These options are not good enough. College was supposed to give us hope for our financial future, not place us back in our parents’ houses without jobs.
Mortgage and rent payments must be suspended, so further debt and illness can be avoided, especially for restaurant servers, broke college students and those in the working class who cannot afford to escape financial crises. Our rent is due April 1.