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The Daily Tar Heel

From the class of 2021 to 2025, The Daily Tar Heel spoke to UNC students who reflected on their experiences throughout the last two years of the pandemic.

Chapter 5: ‘We were forced to fast-forward our lives’

Several days after the fall 2021 semester ended, first-year Yakob Lemma sat in a dorm room doing math problems to prepare for his algebra final.

Most students had already vacated campus because Winter Break had begun, but Lemma had tested positive for COVID-19 and needed to postpone his final exam to isolate in a dorm room.

“It honestly felt kind of like a jail cell,” he said. “But it was much better than having the chance to spread it.”

This semester, the University is not providing quarantine and isolation housing for students as it had in previous semesters. Lemma said he doesn't like the mindset that catching COVID-19 is inevitable. 

He said he had also expected a stronger mental health support system in place coming into UNC, especially because of how big of a transition period moving to college was for the class of 2025.

Because of the impacts online learning has had on his last two years, Lemma felt like he was entering college with the mindset of a high school junior. 

“It felt like we were forced to fast-forward our lives,” he said. “I felt like we got two years, or one and a half years, taken from us. And it felt like we were forced to mature and go into this brand-new world when we didn't even finish our other chapters.”

He said he learned a lot during the transition period to college about managing his time and taking care of himself in order to find a better balance between his mental health, academics and social life. 

To help support student mental health on campus, Lemma and student activists circulated a petition in October calling for the UNC administration to provide more funding for Counseling and Psychological Services. The petition gained over 1,000 signatures, and Lemma and the activists also wrote notes with messages of love and support to tape on doors across the South Campus residence halls.

“I think it was a really important reminder that you're loved,” Lemma said. “You're so loved, you are still cared for regardless, and that it's important to take care of yourself.”

Click here to read the next part, Chapter 6: ‘Long story short, I had burnt myself out’

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