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Back to school at zoom university

The University of Southern California’s campus is normally flooded with students on their way to class, studying with friends or just hanging out. With school now fully online, USC is experiencing a different kind of fall semester.  The school grounds are now desolate aside from the COVID-19 testing sites.

The university expects students to fully acclimate to online learning. However, staring at a computer screen for six to seven hours a day is already causing burn out amongst students. 

Majors, like film and television production,normally involve hands-on learning. Now, university COVID-19 protocol requires film students finish their senior thesis projects through Zoom.

The film production program accumulates into this final thesis project. Students pitch their ideas and four projects are picked for the cohort to work on. What results is usually a short film, or sometimes a documentary, sitcom, or tv drama. The cohort of students work together to finalize the work to show their friends, family and peers in a final presentation in Norris Theatre.  

Hands-on vs. Hands-off

“It’s Zoom fatigue for sure,” production major Connor Williams says. “It’s hard to stay involved on a computer screen, talking about making movies when I’m used to being in class actually doing that.”

Senior production students normally spend seven-hour days working on projects in groups. 

“I think the biggest element that I’m missing from in person is the social aspect,” Williams says. “Being in the hallway and getting a coffee with other projects and talking to other producers about how their projects are going it’s just so much easier to stay in the loop on what everyone else is doing.”

A bachelor’s degree at USC is roughly $300,000 over the course of four years. The school refused to lower tuition or offer refunds, despite not offering students the expected opportunities that come with being on-campus. 

Production students normally are given state-of-the-art film equipment to work with. Now they rely on their cell phones to film. Still, Williams notes that faculty has been helpful to the students in adapting to this new learning space. 

“I think the biggest source of conflict has been with the administration and the students because their communication has not been what it should be,” Williams says. 

From May to July, the USC School of Cinematic Arts went back and forth over whether classes would be in person or hybrid, and concluded in August that the program would be completely remote. At first, a few production classes were allowed to meet in-person, socially distanced and masks required. However, on August 5, Provost Charles F. Zukoski and Vice President David Wright revealed to the students that they never received permission from Los Angeles County for hybrid classes and that everything would be moved to remote learning. 

Adapting to Zoom

USC junior Alexia Sambrona is normally highly involved in extracurriculars. While double majoring in cognitive science and neuroscience with a minor in LBTQ+ studies, Sambrona is the executive director of USC Student Assembly for Gender Empowerment, otherwise known as SAGE. 

During the fall semester, SAGE celebrates Body Love Month, an initiative that educates about the importance of taking care of the body. Last year’s events included a fair with food and body health resources, a screening of “Miss Representation” and speakers, such as “The Good Place” actress Jameella Jamil.

“Online we are trying to figure out speaker events through Zoom,”Sambrona says. “[However], that poses a unique set of challenges.”

The challenges include recruiting new members through Zoom and finding effective ways to communicate online.

Going back to school has unleashed various challenges for students throughout the university area. Los Angeles is in the midst of a heatwave, which has caused occasional power blackouts around the campus area. In addition, some community members walk around maskless. 

Many students have taken to social media to remind their peers that they are guests in South L.A., as COVID-19 cases have risen since students returned to the neighborhood. 

Sambrona notes her professors have been accommodating, but wishes administrators would listen to students. 

“The majority of the problem with online is the fact that we’re not getting the same college experience. It’s harder to connect to our professors,” Sambrona says. “A lot of students don’t have a quiet space to relax. Especially first-gen, BIPOC, low-income students.”

In addition to her involvement with SAGE, Sambrona also started USC Care Collective, an Instagram page to put together resources and services for students from marginalized communities. 

“We’re not saying we can’t adapt to online,” Alexia states. “We are saying that a lot of us don’t even have the resources to be okay.”

Sophia Ungaro
Sophia Rose Ungaro is Culturas resident writing intern. Ungaro hails from San Pedro, California. Growing up with a Navajo/Meztizo mother and a Sicilian father has given Ungaro a unique perspective on the world. In 2021 Ungaro will graduate from the University of Southern California with a B.A. in Journalism. Her beats are race, pop culture, and entertainment.
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