A student emailed. The president replied.

President Kent Fuchs
March 19, 2020

As appeared in President Kent Fuchs' monthly column in The Independent Florida Alligator

Dear President Fuchs,

My name is Meghan Rodriguez, and I'm currently a freshman studying mechanical engineering here at UF. In light of everything going on, I understand the difficulties you must be having trying to run this school in a safe and efficient way while taking into account students' health.

I'm writing to you today to give you a personal account of how a student is handling all of this change and how much this is affecting the kids at your school. I'm so heavily a Gator fan, and I love this school endlessly.

Being an engineering student taking 16 credit hours means I'm pretty busy, but it's a schedule I can still usually handle. I am also in two clubs, UF Society of Women Engineers and Generational Relief in Prosthetics, along with playing for the women's club soccer team here.

As developments due to the coronavirus have been shared, my life has changed significantly. My outlet from the stress of school has been taken away completely, as I can no longer play the sport I've loved since I was four, along with my clubs here. With school on my mind 100 percent of the time, my time here became a little harder to enjoy.

Then, classes transitioned to be 100 percent online, which was a major change to my academics. Learning online has always been such a weakness for me, which is why I never choose online classes to begin with. A few of my professors have also inadvertently made their courses harder with a larger workload to try and compensate for no lectures. With the already 16-credit-hour course load, more work has been added on to my schedule from these teachers, not even taking into account my life outside of college.

Outside of my life here at the university, I've grown up in Jacksonville, Florida, since I was 10 years old, and my parents have just recently moved. All of my hometown friends go here though, which I'm beyond blessed for. I don't have any friends back home where I live, so college has always been where I consider my home to be, especially at UF. With such sudden developments, almost all my friends had so quickly left, forcing me to also go home seven weeks early to a home where I have no outlets or friends.

My thoughts have now only been on how to do a 180 of everything in my life, and now I'm not really able to even focus on school. I have an exam in two days along with two next week and another one the following Monday that I now have to take at home in an environment not suitable for college-level focus.

My last intention is to write an email to you complaining about the situation and how unfair it is because I know it is so much worse for other people out there. I wanted to give you insight into how much a student out there, who is still at school and mostly alone, is personally struggling and how much anxiety and stress this is adding to students.

My point in all of this is that I hope there is a way you can allow students to be reassured in school somehow, whether that be reaching out to students or providing some sort of cushion. I've met you a couple of times, President Fuchs. I know I am simply one of dozens of thousands of kids you have met here, but know you made this school into a place that a student like me considers home.

Thank you,

Meghan Rodriguez

Dear Meghan,

Thank you for your thoughtful email and kind words.

I regret that you’re not able to play Women’s Club Soccer or to be a part of your academic clubs and that you’ve been separated from your best friends. Nothing I can say right now can replace those joys or those friends or bring you back to our campus and the classrooms you love. 

I know from other emails that you are among many students doing your best to cope with many unexpected hardships. Like you, most students are struggling to make a rapid switch to online classes, keep up with their studies and move back home, all at once. Thousands have learned that the Spring graduation they’d looked forward to for years has been postponed, and they may not be able to attend.

We have students who have already lost jobs and others whose family members have been laid off due to the closures aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19. Every student has reason to worry about their health and the health of their loved ones because the virus is now everywhere.

These are unprecedented times. And without meaning to be discouraging, the days and weeks ahead are likely to be tougher — with more hardships.

Just over 100 years ago, in the fall of 1918, UF was hit hard by the worst flu pandemic in modern history. Then, as now, all athletic events were canceled, along with most university activities. A third of our students and some faculty got sick. Floyd Hall (today Griffin-Floyd Hall) was turned into a makeshift hospital — but there were still not enough beds, doctors, nurses or drugs to give everyone adequate care.

Several students and at least one faculty member died. Yet “classes continued throughout the crisis even if there was only a single student present,” according to the book “Gator History: A Pictorial History of the University of Florida,” by the late UF history professor Samuel Proctor and the late co-author Wright Langley.

Those who survived went on to flourish and helped create UF as we know it, including, in 1924, the first Homecoming.

When I picture what it must have been like to fight the 1918 flu pandemic at UF with few tools of modern medicine, in rudimentary facilities, in an impoverished era for UF, I take heart. With the help of our amazing UF doctors and nurses, and with so many working around the clock to find a way to battle COVID-19, I know that we will win this fight, too.

You write about the difficulty of switching to online classes while living in a new city where you don’t have any friends. It’s hard to focus on school when you are figuring out “how to do a 180 of everything in my life,” as you write.

Meghan, it’s clear to me that you and your fellow students are being tested. Indeed your generation — which came into the world with 9/11 and goes out into the world as adults in a global pandemic — seems to be being tested in a way that no generation globally has been tested in my lifetime.

No doubt, this pandemic will change you. I believe it will make you more resilient just as happened with those who survived and flourished at UF after the 1918 flu pandemic.

Meghan, again, I am deeply saddened that you and our other students are seeing your studies and lives upended. When this ends – and it will end – I pray that you and UF will flourish. 

I look forward to seeing you on campus again.

Warmest regards,