Fatou Ndoye, Class of 2023, wears one of her favorite masks. (Photography by Fatou Ndoye, Class of 2023)

Through student eyes

Two photographers show us what Autumn Quarter was like.

This quarter the Core had two Micro-Metcalf Interns, Fatou Ndoye and Vera Soloview, both Class of 2023. Together they captured the defining aspects of life under COVID-19: masks, surveillance tests, social distancing, and the ever-present Zoom.

Interviews have been edited and condensed.

“I realized masks can be the new thing.”

Fatou Ndoye, Class of 2023, is an economics major from Dakar, Senegal.

Last year, I was a photographer for MODA, the fashion RSO [recognized student organization]. When we first started having to wear masks, I was like, oh no. I can’t match my outfits with this. But later on I realized masks can be the new thing. There are so many styles. When your face is covered, you can find another way to express yourself—with your mask. And I love that my face stays warm.

Autumn Quarter has been better than I expected. All my classes were online, and personally, I enjoyed that. Online classes allow me to stay focused and organized, and going back to the recordings of the lectures was great.

When COVID hit in the spring, I had to move out of the dorm into an apartment by myself. That was really hard. Now I have two roommates who have been my source of support. They’re my best friends, and we have a great relationship.

Agnes Palmstierna, Class of 2023, and Fiorella Robinson, Class of 2023
From left: Ndoye’s roommate Agnes Palmstierna, Class of 2023, who is a designer for MODA this year.  Fiorella Robinson, Class of 2023, a friend Ndoye ran into on 53rd Street. (Photography by Fatou Ndoye, Class of 2023)

I have not been home to see my family in Dakar for over a year. They’re trying to put up a good front, but I know they want me home. I was going to go home for Christmas, but the number of cases in Senegal started rising a little bit. The rate in Senegal is very low, a lot less than the United States. But the main thing is the fear of not being able to come back, even if I have a visa, because the borders can be closed. I didn’t want to take the risk.

Before COVID I was able to go so many different places and engage in different activities—have different escapes from the stress. It’s taken a lot of creativity to figure out what I like to do this quarter. Taking pictures has been great. Sometimes I would dance in my room. And honestly, my workload has been a kind of pleasure. When school started, it was such a relief. Seeing how much I have learned, things that I didn’t understand at the beginning of the quarter, and now I get them. It’s really boring, but that’s how good it gets right now.

I want to say I learned different skills like cooking, but to be honest, it was like, one time. I order out a lot or cook basic things like spaghetti. There was one day when I cooked, and I was really proud, and I was like, this is me now, I’m a cook. And it never happened again.

I’ve definitely had my hard days, but I like to think about the things I’ve learned. Being alone is really good in terms of reflecting on yourself, growing as a person, figuring out what’s important to you. I loved that aspect of quarantine overall. Spring Quarter last year was so hard, but I’m such a different person now and I love that.

Desktop with laptop and other school supplies
Reviewing for a final on Zoom. (Photography by Vera Soloview, Class of 2023)

“I can’t even put a single label on how I felt.”

Vera Soloview, a second-year from Anchorage, Alaska, is majoring in biology with a specialization in microbiology.

Autumn Quarter was strange. I can’t even put a single label on how I felt. Some of it was great, some of it was really challenging and difficult.

I lived with three of my closest friends in an apartment. Emotionally that was supergreat—just having people that I could see without a mask. We were able to be there for each other, making sure we took breaks so we didn’t work all day. Somebody would finally be like, hey, let’s have an ice cream break.

UChicago lab
The lab where Soloview was a teaching assistant, marked for social distancing. (Photography by Vera Soloview, Class of 2023)

The thing I missed most was going to the dining halls to eat with friends. After class we would always meet up for lunch. It was our way of relaxing. I miss that so much, because I can’t see those friends easily anymore, and now when I have lunch, I find myself thinking, I could still be doing work. I make a quick sandwich in the kitchen, and then I get right back to it.

Going to RSO [recognized student organization] meetings was a really big part of Autumn Quarter last year. I was involved with Phoenix Biology, Women in Science, women’s rugby, and the Crew Ministry Group. This year it was all on Zoom.

Rugby was superinteresting. The conference we play in had a tournament with other schools. Every week we had a set of exercises to do. How long can you hold a plank or a wall sit? How many push-ups or squats can you complete in two minutes? I think we ended up in second or third place. I wouldn’t say I’m in really good shape, but I was fortunate enough not to gain the quarantine 15. My max was 62 push-ups. I kept trying to beat that, but I never could.

UChicago quad
A quiet campus. (Photography by Vera Soloview, Class of 2023)

The COVID surveillance testing was once a week. My time slot was Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 12. I would have to go at 8 a.m., because I had classes from 9:40 to 12. The day I had a midterm in chemistry, I was running to go get my test and then running back home. Fortunately they were forgiving if you did miss it—you could go on Sundays.

I had heard these horror stories of the stick being forced into your nose all the way into your brain. It was nothing like that. It was a little swab and it barely went in—this is kind of gross, but almost like a picking-your-nose kind of feeling. It went in each nostril, turned to collect as much of a sample as possible, and that was it.