How has COVID-19 affected BIPOC and Mental Health?

Image from the Burlington Free Press

-Moirha Smith, PJC Intern

This article is about the effects of COVID-19 on students of color and their mental health. Two students are first-generation college students. The pandemic has increased the vulnerability of minorities who are already marginalized. Interviews were conducted by a Black identifying student.


Interview #1

How has the pandemic affected you? As a student? As an employee?

Pandemic has affected me by not having in person class That is fine, since this is a pandemic. We all have a responsibility to keep the people around us safe.  I had a job as an RA, but now we just do not have to do our job. A lot of my friends have experienced racism because they are Asian, it has affected my family from the start around end of January, since they live in Taiwan.

It affected my access to mental health by not being able to meet in person with my therapist. I am just scared to walk down the street sometimes, because I am afraid that people might attack me or hurt me.


Interview #2

How has the pandemic affected you? As a student? As an employee?

The pandemic has affected me in that I feel paralyzed and stuck during these unprecedented times. I am conflicted because on one hand I want to get out there and help my community –– if healthcare professionals can go out and risk their lives every day why can’t I? –– but on the other hand I want to take this time to rest and be with my family, as well as self-quarantine so I don’t potentially contract the virus or potentially spread COVID-19 to someone I love without knowing. As a student, I have been affected in that my courses have moved online which has caused many issues for me. Learning online is not something I’m used to, and it has caused me to get behind on my course both because I am not used to the format and also because the stress I feel about the virus makes it hard to concentrate on schoolwork. As an employee, I have been affected because my job has closed down to minimize crowds and help the city stop the spread of the virus. Although I am grateful that my job is still paying me for the shifts I would’ve been working during this time, I am also fearful of potentially being laid off if the closures continue.


How has it affected your family?

The coronavirus pandemic has affected my family because now that everyone is at home full-time, it has made us much closer, but it has also affected my work ethic. As I am working from home, I do find it hard to concentrate with my family around 24/7 –– I live in a Hispanic household with constant noise and distractions. Other than that, it’s nice to have a support system at home and I’d rather have my family at home and safe than outside with the potential to contract the virus. I know not everyone has that privilege of working from home and having their family with them.


Has the pandemic affected your access to mental health resources? Such as therapy and medications? If so, how are you coping and keeping your mind healthy?

The pandemic hasn’t affected my access to mental health resources that much as I have been out of therapy as well as stopped taking medication for a couple months now.  I can only imagine how hard it may be to access mental health services right now, especially therapy which is usually face-to-face. I am coping and keeping my mind healthy through practices that I know really help me –– reading, yoga, meditation (sometimes!), FaceTiming/texting friends, listening to music, creating art, and journaling.


What resources do you need right now?

Right now, I would say that the resources I need are outlets to let go of stress and manage my anxiety –– webinars/conversations with mental health professionals, yoga, and meditation practices held through the web, conversations with friends about how we are coping, tips for coping and staying healthy, and self-care services/products.


Also, if you feel comfortable, how do you self-identify? 

I self-identify as Afro-Latinx, a woman of color, a mental health advocate, a journalist/creative, and aspiring yogi!


Interview #3

How has it affected your family?

As an individual with a chronic illness, I am in the population that is more vulnerable. I have to be more cautious than others. I live with two other people with other chronic illnesses. Diabetes and high blood pressure. What makes it worse is that I am a student that’s from a large city. As a student it has impacted me because I [had to choose to] stay on campus and risk the coronavirus alone in Vermont or go back to my hometown [Philadelphia] with more cases than the entire state of Vermont. This has impacted my academics and social life.


How has this affected your academic life? How is it switching from in person classes to virtual?

I was…studying abroad in Cuba when I got the news that UVM was closing because of COVID-19. My initial flight back from Cuba was to Vermont. I had to go back to campus to retrieve some items then travel back home. The university was not clear [what they meant by] “temporary leave.” The university gave professors and staff a week to put their entire curriculum online and expected them to be successful. You have the stress and tension they put onto professors and staff and that same tension and stress is being put onto the students. So now student leaders have to fight back against the University to be fair and equitable and [have] the University offer pass/fail options. I’m still waiting to see if I want to do pass/fail for my classes.


How has this made you feel and how have you adjusted?

Initially, I felt like wtf because UVM was not being clear. I was depending on all of my different involvements on and off campus. I wanted to stay on campus because Philadelphia had more cases than Vermont as an entire state. I was thinking logistically that I wouldn’t want to go back home because I’m risking my safety. I was pleading with people, and I was depending on my internship to keep me in Vermont, but they shut down their operation and are now operating remotely which left me with no other option than to return home.


How has COVID-19 impacted you financially?

I depended on my on-campus jobs. One of them I knew I was going to make “bank” because that job consisted of SpringFest. I could work multiple shifts and have my paycheck be over $300. That was going to help me pay off the balance of my tuition for this semester. I still have a balance on my student account as of today April 10, 2020.


How has COVID-19 impacted your mental health and access to resources?

My resources are in Vermont. So, distance is a large factor. I am one of thousands of students that use CAPS which is a counseling on UVM campus. It is a huge difference when you cannot communicate with them in person and only hear their voice through a cell phone or email them. I don’t think people understand how valuable therapists and counselors are — especially on a college campus. My therapist is also in a high administrative role and she told me that the university administration was wondering if the CAPS was an essential service to students. I wonder, is the athletic department essential?


How has this affected you as a BIPOC?

My university does not give a fuck about students of color. I was very vocal on campus. It’s a slap in the face for them to shut down or reduce resources for students that need it the most.


How could have your university handled COVID-19 better?

Students are worried about refunds because we have not finished the academic year. A lot of us depended on our university environment because it was safe. We are forced to return to dangerous environments. Not just the social/family households, but countries, cities, and states. UVM student population are majority out of state and international students. The states that have the most coronavirus cases are New England states and New York City. A lot of students are from Massachusetts, New York City, and Philadelphia. 5,200 students live on campus. The university initially wanted 20% of that 5,200 to stay on campus through the pandemic. That means 80% of students would have to leave. You can leave campus after sophomore year, but that doesn’t mean all students can afford to live off campus. With 20% of 5,200 students, a competition happened. Who needs to stay on campus the most? The university administration got to pick and choose.

Also, their blank statements on these emails are ridiculous. It was only a matter of time that graduation would be cancelled. They didn’t blatantly say commencement was cancelled they said we will not be having graduation at its original date, but were looking for other open resources for this to happen. 


Any last words?

Fuck the university and give me my degree. I feel that UVM is one of the oldest Universities in the Nation and can not get their shit together. I hope they use this pandemic as a learning tool.


What are your identities?

I am Black/Afro-Caribbean


On April 21, 2020 a class-action lawsuit was filed against UVM on behalf of two students (Nilay Kamal Patel and Rachel A. Gladstone). Included in their lawsuit are claims that the university has “inadequately reimbursed students who paid to live on campus or access meal plans, offering them only “minimal” and “inadequate” future credits”. Read more about the lawsuit here.