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Bruins in Paris

Students reflect on effects of global, schoolwide changes over last 4 years

By Ashley Ko/Daily Bruin senior staff

By Anna Gu and Anthony Li

June 10, 2024 12:06 a.m.

This post was updated June 14 at 1:27 p.m.

As students in the class of 2024 prepare their caps and gowns for graduation, they reflect on the numerous events which shaped their college experience.

Online learning was the first of many events that affected graduating students’ college experiences.

According to a California Student Aid Commission study, 46% of students took on fewer units and 70% reported they missed class and homework due to stress. The study found unreliable internet connection and lack of dedicated work spaces as significant barriers to education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Isabel Taulli, a fourth-year communication student, said she developed poor study habits due to online classes.

“I feel like I’ve academically regressed a tiny bit,” Taulli said. “I was not challenged at all during that first year, and some of the habits that I formed during the first year carried out to my second and third year.”

While many Bruins faced challenges in the new online learning environment, others found the remote format conducive to productivity and supportive social circles.

Aiden Chan, a fourth-year biology student, said he made friends online during the pandemic and maintained those friendships after activities transitioned back in person.

“I met my first friend group at UCLA, and we got very close over Discord online for the entire freshman year,” Chan said. “Those are some of my best friends I ever had.”

Alongside the academic impacts of remote learning, many students experienced major adaptations to their socialization, especially those involved in interactive activities, such as team sports and student organizations.

Kate Lane, a fourth-year psychology student on the women’s volleyball team, said it was difficult to train with her teammates during her freshman year due to strict protocols such as distance monitoring.

However, athletes at NCAA-affiliated universities who faced disruptions because of the pandemic were granted an additional year of athletic eligibility. This exception allowed athletes, like Lane, an opportunity to make up for any losses they experienced during disrupted seasons.

Student organizations also navigated the pandemic to maximize the student experience. Mike Cohn, the UCLA Student Organizations, Leadership & Engagement director, said the number of student organizations on campus surprisingly increased from 1,300 to about 1,350 during the pandemic.

Chan said he joined Con Brio String Orchestra, a music club founded during the pandemic, in fall 2023. He added that he joined because of its focus on the inclusion of nonmusic majors while existing orchestras do not.

With student organization traditions including culture nights resuming in person after the pandemic, Chan said he was able to perform on stage for the first time at the Taiwanese Culture Night, creating a memorable experience for him. The show resumed after a four-year hiatus in April 2023.

Despite the return to in-person events, spikes in COVID-19 cases in winter 2021 prevented a complete transition back to in-person student life.

The slow transition back in person gave rise to other issues – notably, staff shortages across dining facilities at UCLA. This shortage reflected a nationwide employment crisis stemming from the lockdowns caused by the pandemic. As a result, UCLA limited dining options to only on-campus residents in the takeout format.

The dining staff shortage led the AFSCME Local 3299 union to protest at Bruin Plate twice during the 2021-2022 school year. According to the Economic Policy Institute, unionization increased by 200,000 in 2022.

Victor Narro, a law and labor studies lecturer, added the United Auto Workers union strike in fall 2022 that stirred a national labor movement likely stemmed from the same realization about a need for improved quality of life.

“The largest union now in the University of California’s system are … academic workers, graduate students, and teaching assistants and researchers,” Narro said. “And that was a great big campaign because, I think the pandemic also highlighted that inequality of workers in the University of California persists,” Narro said.

While the pandemic caused student life to fluctuate and disruptions in service offerings for students, UCLA implemented new food, housing and academic offerings to enhance the student experience.

For example, UCLA has been adding new food options on campus and the Hill. Epicuria at Covel and at Ackerman opened in the falls of 2021 and 2022, respectively. Both of these dining halls offer a variety of Italian and Mediterranean meals for students to pick from. SAMBAZON, an acai bowl restaurant chain, was added to Ackerman Union in September 2023. UCLA also brought back Cafe 1919 in November 2023 and De Neve Late Night this spring.

UCLA also opened new apartments including Gayley Heights, Tipuana, Palo Verde and Laurel to students in fall 2022. Due to increased housing facilities, UCLA began offering four years of guaranteed housing starting in fall 2022. The construction of two new apartment complexes on Landfair Avenue and Glenrock Avenue, as well as the start of Gayley Towers’ redevelopments in 2023 further supported student housing demands.

On top of physical spaces, UCLA also expanded its academic offerings. The university added disability studies and music industry majors, as well as two new degrees in public health.

Aerin Geary, a second-year public health student in the major’s first cohort, said they chose to pursue the Bachelor of Arts program because of the breadth and diversity of the introductory courses.

“That intro course really got me hooked,” Geary said. “We had all of these cool speakers, and everyone had just wild amounts of high-level, real-world experience.”

While UCLA aimed to enhance academic experiences for students through new offerings, some students voiced concerns with UCLA’s other new academic developments, which include a higher Latin honors cutoff. For example, the 2023-2024 summa cum laude cutoff for the Samueli School of Engineering is currently 3.972, an increase from its cutoff of 3.914 in the 2020-2021 school year.

Mia Elliott, a fourth-year political science and public affairs student, said she recently noticed the increasingly competitive Latin honors cutoffs.

“To be a summa cum laude for public affairs, you have to get (almost) a 4.0,” Elliot said. “I feel like that sounds ridiculous because it’s like you can’t make a single mistake in any of your classes throughout all your four years to get this highest honor.”

Elliot added that this could be a possible results of grade inflation resulting from online classes.

While various global events and schoolwide changes allowed graduating Bruins to have a unique college experience, notable events of student activism also shaped their experience, from Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 to this year’s Palestine solidarity encampment.

Reflecting on the recent protests, Narro said people’s focus on the politics behind the encampments has led them to neglect the solidarity and interconnectedness the student activism has brought about.

“Students were there for each other. They felt like a village together,” Narro said.

With graduating students in mind, Narro added that there’s a lot to learn from the recent student movements.

“They (students) went through a lot together,” Narro said. “It’s that togetherness. I think that’s a strength of student solidarity, student movements.”

Thus, despite the tumultuous and unexpected nature of their college experience, many graduating students have a newfound appreciation for what being a Bruin means to them.

Elliott said over the four years, she’s come to admire Bruins’ abilities to overcome adversity and find ways to make the world a better place despite the challenges.

“One thing that Bruins are really good at is being well-rounded individuals and very friendly and passionate individuals who are willing to step into the world and make a real-life change,” Elliott said.

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