Editor’s note: This article contains references to abuse.
Shrieks of “Ow” and “She hit me” echoed through the halls and into UF biology sophomore Mya Dyson’s childhood bedroom as she tried to focus on her virtual classes.
Since moving home to Stafford, Virginia, for the Fall, the sounds of Dyson’s five younger cousins whining, crying and screaming have broken the 19-year-old’s concentration and put her in a state of panic.
Some students Zoomed from their home bedrooms to save on rent and reduce the spread of COVID-19. As family responsibilities collide with school obligations, some experienced plummeting grades and a decline in their mental health.
More than 14,500 UF students have registered for at least one in-person class this Spring. Some students are staying in Gainesville to revive the interactive experience they’ve missed. Others have used the increased in-person courses as an opportunity to escape unsafe and destructive home situations.
Dyson stayed in her hometown to save money. She didn’t anticipate taking care of smaller children, who arrived after a family emergency. Dyson spends her days babysitting her cousins, ages 3, 4, 6, 8 and 12, who moved in weeks earlier.
To complete her Zoom classes, she seals herself in her room as muffled screams, cries and laughter pound at her door. Dyson’s mom regularly walks into her room during exams and Zoom calls for help with chores.
“My privacy is gone,” Dyson said.
After her Zoom classes, she helps her older cousins solve fractions and decimals and helps the younger cousins learn to read and write until dinner at 5 p.m. It’s not until 9 p.m. that she has time to finish her homework.
Dyson said her Fall grades have suffered because of the distractions and has felt increasingly lazy and unmotivated. She registered for two in-person labs and one in-person class this Spring. The remainder of her classes are online.
When Dyson told her mother she was going to live in Murphree Hall, her mother cried. She said she’s not sure how her mother is going to handle taking care of the kids but made this decision for her mental and academic health.
“There is a line between wanting to live my own life but feeling bad for leaving the other side of me behind,” she said.
Maria De Andraca, a 20-year-old UF economics and sustainability senior, decided to stay in Gainesville this Fall to eliminate similar interruptions from her 13- and 18-year-old sisters.
De Andraca said she doesn’t have a private space to study and feels disoriented in her Miami home. She prefers to study at coffee shops and libraries in Gainesville.
“When I’m back home I’m all over the place,” she said.
De Andraca registered for a mix of in-person, HyFlex and online courses for the Spring and is hoping next semester feels more normal, like previous semesters.
“The whole pandemic has made me really unsure about everything,” De Andraca said.
De Andraca graduates in the Spring and hopes to live the full experience – or as much as COVID-19 restrictions will allow.
Vanessa Diaz, a 20-year-old UF psychology junior, stayed in an off-campus apartment in Gainesville during the Fall and plans to stay during the Spring.
Diaz’s parents are divorced, and she still moves from house to house every week when she’s home. With her older brother, father and step mother homebound, she feels a lack of privacy and said it’s more convenient to stay in Gainesville.
“When you're with your roommates or with other students, everybody's on the same routine,” Diaz said. “Everybody's generally pretty quiet and everyone's respectful of that, versus at home it's more chaotic.”
She has registered for all in-person courses for Spring.
More than 8,000 in-person classes will be offered this Spring, which is twice the number of courses offered this Fall.
Faith Buckley, an 18-year-old UF journalism freshman, has no other choice but to stay in Gainesville this Spring.
Buckley had a verbal fight with her parents that turned physical in late July. What began as an argument on the Black Lives Matter movement and face masks led to physical abuse from her father. She was kicked out of her home in Tampa the same day.
“I didn't really process it in the moment,” Buckley said. “But it spiraled as time went on into depressive symptoms.”
She went to live with her sister, Hope, 22, in her townhouse in Tampa where she slept on the couch for a month until moving to Gainesville in late August.
Her parents stopped supporting her financially, and she had to file as a runaway on her FAFSA. Her 16-year-old brother also moved out of her parent’s home after the fight, and their sister is working to gain legal custody of him.
Everything she owns, from yearbooks to old T-shirts, is jammed in the backseat of her car and in the drawers of her dorm.
Buckley said classes were on the backburner during the Fall, but she’s beginning to pick up the fallen pieces and improve her financial and mental health. Her good and bad moments fluctuate, but she’s planning to take it day by day, hour by hour, she said.
She has two in-person classes and hopes to join more clubs in the Spring. She said the in-person interaction will serve as a distraction.
“I’m starting to see the possibility of a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.