By Lauren Valles
Optimism fills the air at UCLA—and it’s not just because of our carefully targeted admissions ad campaign.
More than optimism, it’s a hope fueled by the COVID-19 vaccine. Distant memories of Thursday nights and meeting friends for BPlate brunch are cautiously repopulating the minds of students as we desperately wish for some semblance of an in-person experience this fall quarter.
But as we turn our backs on this excruciatingly long year and look longingly into the angelic light of a potential school year back on-campus (like, actually on-campus) reflection demands that we take stock of the elements of pandemic life we’d like to keep, or never endure again, after everything returns to normal.
It’s worth noting that this year goes beyond a shared sense of “pause.” Quarantine has forced us to confront the parts of ourselves we typically gloss over or even repress. It’s ignited a global reckoning within our generation and made us ask ourselves: Do we like who we’re becoming? And if not, what are we going to do about it?
For many, this time in quarantine has motivated a complete dissociation from the toxic culture of productivity that defines UCLA. Many entered quarantine as heaps of anxiety driven by people pleasing, but since last March tactics of meditation (fueled by a free LA County subscription offer to Headspace), mindfulness, and steady plant watering routines (learned from TikTok) have permeated people’s existence on the conveyor belt of output. Others have reduced screen time, taken more walks, and reconnected with family and friends. There seems to be a greater investment of time in oneself across the board, almost as if we’ve all woken up from a long capitalism-induced trance that made us correlate busyness with worth.
When discussing time and how people have used it in quarantine, I’d be remiss if I didn’t define it within the broader context of the productive culture I keep referencing. William James Booth writes in “Economies of Time: On the Idea of Time in Marx’s Political Economy” that Marx calls time “the measure of the exchange value of labor power.” In other words, time is nothing but a measurement of our labor and output. But in quarantine, minutes, hours, and days have lost their meaning in the grand scheme of labor measurement. Gone is the commute, the typical 9 to 5 workday—even time spent getting dressed in the morning has been replaced by changing from the sweats you slept in to the ones you’ll wear that day.
In quarantine, time is a blank slate. And it’s been inspirational to see what some members of our Bruin community have done with their newfound liberation.
In the heat of last spring quarter, when Bruins were shocked and devastated by the murder of George Floyd, they turned out in droves to stand in solidarity with the Black community and demand an end to police violence. Unrestricted by previously in-person confines of the quarter system and fueled by a permeated sense of time in quarantine, their activism didn’t stop there. Students continued to advocate for concrete measures to defund LAPD, eventually receiving an endorsement from North Westwood Neighborhood Council on the People’s Budget LA, a proposal for the LA City Mayor’s Office that would reallocate police funds to other areas of intense need (such as mental health services) throughout the city.
And this passionate advocacy is not limited to our local community, either. Students across the country have joined together with the University of California Student Association (UCSA) to call on Congress to double the Pell Grant (one of the nation’s hallmark forms of federal financial aid for low-income students) to truly make college attainable for all. In February, UCSA partnered with the UC Advocacy Network (UCAN) and the UC itself in this goal, hosting a briefing for Congressional staffers and lobby meetings to encourage representatives to commit to students’ futures. This campaign is especially relevant today when financial insecurity brought on by the pandemic can be detrimental to student success.
Whether it be on the personal scale of improving habits, or on the macro-level of starting movements, Bruins have utilized their liberation from the chains of time to embody the world-changing spirit a post-pandemic world demands. In a time that has felt like the world’s longest stare in the mirror, those in our community have used this time to assess their worth, stand steadfast in their values, and fight for what they believe in. Though an unexpected catalyst, the pandemic has ignited a powerful introspection in our generation forever ingrained in our collective resolve.
From this pandemic, we’re taking the lessons we’ve learned, hardships we’ve faced, and activism we’ve cultivated. There’s no doubt they’ll serve us—and inspire future generations—long after normalcy returns.