University of Rochester, Saturday, April 18th, 2020. Amatuer photographer Joe and an empty Eastman Quadrangle. [Photos: David Kramer, 4/18/20]
Recently, I’ve taken excursions to mostly deserted campuses: high school, college and university.
My visit to McQuaid Jesuit High School, An eerie quiet at McQuaid Jesuit High School in Brighton, was the most post-apocalyptic. I saw exactly one person, a student on a bicycle, and one vehicle, the school’s unused Student Driver car.
Nazareth College had somewhat more activity, An eerie quiet at Nazareth College. Along with a handful of cars and other vehicles, in my 20 – 25 minute stay, I saw 4 people: three maintenance workers and one security officer. As I wrote:
Walking through a relatively empty and silent campus is, of course, not a new experience. On a July evening during the lull between summer sessions, Nazareth is almost entirely deserted. But this solitary amble was uncannily different. School was in full session. Students and faculty were ZOOMing; the staff was working from home. The virtual cloud around me was buzzing with intellectual activity. But I could only imagine, not see, the hum. I dearly hope Nazareth returns to normal — including the inevitable mid-April snow flurry — soon. When only on a sultry summer night, no one is there. (see also An Eerie Quiet at Nazareth College, Part Two, by Ian Richard Schaefer)
As the University of Rochester is larger than Nazareth, today the campus was not as desolate. A fair number of cars were parked, others traversing Wilson Boulevard. In my hour stay, I saw about 30 people, including several security officers. Nonetheless, an eerie quiet pervaded. On a normal Saturday afternoon — especially as slight traces of snow gave way to bright sunshine — the libraries, computer labs, dining halls, athletic fields and general hang outs would be a whirlwind of activity.
During my excursion, I had the same feeling of simultaneity as at Nazareth, no doubt intensified had today not been the weekend. Only a handful of us were actually on the campus, but school was in full session. Students and faculty were ZOOMing; the staff was working from home.
While I feel sorry for drama and music majors whose performances are cancelled and athletes who may have prematurely played their final games, it us undoubtedly good that classes continue. For many, an entirely lost semester would create serious personal, financial and career problems. Had the pandemic occurred when I was in college, our semester would have vanished, leaving us anxiously wondering when we could graduate.
At the same time, for all the educational bounty brought by digital technology — allowing classes to continue online — a price is paid. From my perspective, the undergraduate experience suffers.
I am a member of what I call the “The Bridge Generation,” born 1960 – 1980, those who were mostly educated before the dominance of the internet and then crossed the bridge into the digital age. Based on that theme, in January 2012, I wrote a Guest Essay (below), “Wired Generation may be missing something valuable (Messenger Post Newspapers and later “Then and Now”, (Brown Alumni Magazine, March/April, 2012), drawing on Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot set at my university, Brown, in 1982, my half-freshman and half-sophomore years. I wrote:
Set on the very cusp of the digital age, Eugenides’s college students do not: Google, Facebook, post on YouTube, text, tweet, email, blog, Skype. They do not walk around campus with digital phones or iPods surgically implanted to ear and hand. They type their papers. No laptops, no inboxes, no online classes, no chat rooms, no virtual classrooms. They don’t have to worry about losing files, backing up, printing. They actually go to the library and read books.
Concluding, “I think my generation — the ‘bridge generation’ — has had the best of both worlds. We were educated pre-digital yet have enjoyed the fruits of the new.”
What felt true eight years ago, feels truer today.
The University of Rochester has been good to the magazine, see Farewell, President Seligman: A friend of the magazine. [SEE FULL SERIES AT END]
For a piece on the 1918 pandemic, last month, by chance, I was one of the very last to borrow books from the Rush Rhees Library before the 2020 pandemic forced its closure.
Most importantly, on occasions, the IT staff has miraculously solved what I feared were intractable computer glitches. Way back when, Karina Banda created the first Talker theme and interface. Dylan Wadler helped with photoshop. Maria Weber assisted with the analog-era paper cutter and the digital-age scanner.
In the photo adventure, I visited places we’ve been in earlier articles — then alive with humanity — contrasting them with mostly empty scenes from today.
At Fauver Stadium, I met RIT senior Leah Green, majoring in Museum Studies. The pandemic forced Leah to move back to her parent’s home in Rochester. Given the grim job market, Leah worries her stay might be indefinite.
Also at Fauver was RIT senior Noah Bogusz from Los Angeles, about to complete a BFA in photojournalism. Noah (right photo) recently interviewed UR food service workers as part of an RIT project, Covid-19 Diaries.
Engineering student Kareem Abdel ’22 is from Egypt. Until about a month ago, Egyptian students could have chosen to return home. Like most, Kareem stayed, partly because the kind of internet access he needs is spotty in Egypt. Like all the students I spoke with, Kareem prefers in-class courses. Nonetheless, Kareem says that if you want to learn, you will learn. So far, he’s doing ok, but campus can get lonely at times.
ON RIT, MCC, MCQUAID, EMPIRE STATE, MEDAILLE AND NAZARETH
ON THE UNIVERSITY OF ROCHESTER