Berenice Davila ’21
Political Science major Berenice Davila ’21 had certain expectations for her senior year at Berea, but the COVID-19 pandemic had other plans.
Despite receiving an email from President Lyle Roelofs in March 2020 notifying students, faculty and staff that Berea College campus would be closing to in-person classes, Davila admits she severely underestimated the effects of COVID-19.
“I remember thinking, ‘Wow! How cool that we get to go home for two weeks,’” she said. At that point, Davila was only aware of one other university, Harvard, which had closed due to COVID-19 precautions.
Davila went to join her mom, brother and sister-in-law in Galveston Island, Texas, a place that would quickly become a COVID-19 hotspot. She remembers there were subtle changes that didn’t really impact their way of life.
“My brother was still going to the grocery store without a mask shortly after I came home,” Davila said. “And I thought, ‘Oh, I guess it’s not that serious.’ But the more it went on, I realized how abnormal it is to live like this.”
When the number of cases increased, Davila realized there was no “going back to normal” and that it would be necessary to make other plans for her summer internship in Washington, D.C. Fortunately, she was able to make the best out of a tough situation and worked remotely with EmpowHER, an initiative of the BA Women’s Alliance, which provided her with professional experience and networking opportunities in political science. The nonprofit organization is named for the late B.A. Rudolph, a public servant who worked for Bill Clinton when he was governor of Arkansas and later elected as president of the United States.
Although she was able to complete her coursework and squeeze in an internship, Davila shared that the transition from living independently to quarantining at home was challenging.
“Suddenly I couldn’t leave home at all,” she said. “Berea is small, but I could at least walk down the street to take a break. There were so many tourists at home who didn’t respect the coronavirus restrictions that it was dangerous to be outside.”
Staying at home was tough, but Davila was thankful for the extra time with her family. Living so far away, she hadn’t expected to spend so much time with them. She was happy to be there with her mom, who worked as a domestic housekeeper. Davila’s mom would have been put at high-risk because of her age and pre-existing conditions, but fortunately she was granted paid leave from her employers.
“My mom said it was a blessing, but she’s also a realist and told us, ‘This is our new normal now,’” Davila said.
Davila transitioned back to campus for the fall term and found it taxing to follow all the rules required for on-campus students, although she recognized them as necessary. Maintaining mental health during this time is a difficulty many are facing, Davila said.
But Berea offered many resources and events geared toward support for students during this difficult time. One of her favorite things is the bike program.
“I loved riding my bike down the street every Saturday and getting a bagel; it became a ritual of sorts,” Davila said. “It was a great way to get exercise and to safely spend time with my friends.”
The combination of the bike program and the support of her professors also made a lasting impression. “I hope they are showing themselves the same grace they’ve extended to us,” she said. “They have gone above and beyond.”