Ah, March 2020. None of us really had any idea what was in store when we heard the World Health Organization declared the COVID outbreak a global pandemic over a year ago now on March 11, 2020. Like most, I remember feeling a great deal of uncertainty, fear, and sadness. I was living on campus as a residential advisor at the time, and so the feelings of my first-year residents were much more magnified than my own. Like myself, many of them were living far away from their families for the first time and they were unsure of how to pack up their dorms within a week. The initial transition to an indoor and socially distanced existence was tough for many, but I was amazed and grateful for my peers’ ability to help each other out when things got difficult.
People needed help packing, moving out, finding new places to live, etc, and so students mobilized a volunteer network to help meet people’s needs. Upperclassmen who lived off-campus took people’s furniture they couldn’t take back home with them to minimize the waste that usually happens in a full dorm move-out, people with cars helped people without cars, and people who needed a place to live found many local friends who were willing to help. I was so grateful to help others during this time and also receive help myself when I needed it, and these networks only became more prevalent as the pandemic went on.
Huge amounts of people were facing unemployment, housing insecurity, and food insecurity. The communities of Baltimore (and around the world) rose to the occasion and created networks of mutual aid, or de-professionalized volunteer work to distribute food, housing, medical care, disaster relief, or no-strings-attached funds for survival. Many of these efforts were organized virtually as much as possible to minimize the spread of COVID, with people calling for donations online, then a small group of volunteers distributing funds and goods to people in-person outside. Participating in these networks helped me and others stay connected and redistribute extra income I had while I was able to stay with people rent-free. Even though people are beginning to become vaccinated and unemployment rates are less than it was in March 2020, these networks are still working in Baltimore to get people the things they need.
As we are finally being able to see the end of the pandemic after over a year, I am reflecting on the lessons I learned and how I’ve grown as a person. I can definitely say that my college experience has been disrupted and I’ve had to learn new ways of learning, but also that my privilege and ability to stay home and not get this illness ensured that my quality of life stayed relatively the same. Others did not have that same experience because of systemic racism and poverty, which is why mutual aid networks became so important. Overall, my relationship with Baltimore has been strengthened by the pandemic because I know that the relationships I have and communities I am a part of outside of my campus life are so important to me. When it is safe to do so, I would encourage other college students to connect with each other and the communities you live in to develop deeper relationships because when the times get tough, we really do need each other.
Written by Anna Brackett, MICA Architectural Design '22