I'm a Design Student Barred from the Studio. Now What?

I'm a Design Student Barred from the Studio. Now What?

The University of Washington students are now taking classes online as a response to the COVID-19 outbreak. (Photo: Karen Ducey/Getty Images.)

When the University of Washington moved classes online earlier this month due to COVID-19, I — alongside fellow students — realized that life wasn’t normal anymore. But those of us in U.W.’s School of Art + Art History + Design suddenly faced our own major concern: how are we going to work if we can’t access materials, studios or each other?

We sensed this was going to happen as the situation got worse here in Washington state. A petition to “Close UW Seattle Campus Due to COVID-19 Death in Washington and New Cases” got over 100,000 signatures. Part of me unrealistically hoped the virus would calm down, but when it didn’t, I thought: “Might as well get comfortable.” Laptop in hand, I crawled into bed, determined to stay productive since I had class projects I’d been working on this entire quarter, due in two weeks.

Then an email popped up. Subject line: “All instruction terminated: DESIGN 368 A.”

Excerpt from the email the author received announcing the end of instruction in her design class. Care of: Melissa Takai.

Sometimes when I tell people that I’m a design major at U.W., I get reactions on how cut-throat it must’ve been to get in. Yes, it was. Our faculty is known to take our program seriously, so when I got that email, I thought it was a joke. Never in a million years would they stop instruction. I was wrong. Everything that we’ve been working on for weeks — with our blood, sweat and tears — was wrapped up and our grades switched to credit or no-credit. We didn’t even get to celebrate our hard work, let alone say goodbye.

What’s frustrating about this is that most U.W. classes are still running online. Only some majors — like mine — are entirely shutting down for now. Why couldn’t we figure out a solution instead of throwing our work away? I mean, I understand how challenging that would’ve been, since we need on-campus resources like the printers, studios and woodshop. But as other U.W. students are continuing through finals, we’re just sitting around at home … with an earlier Spring Break?

That’s my positive outlook, but I’m anxious about the future. In our design classes, we have a strong culture of showing up on time and prepping our work to present. No matter how gueling it can be, critique is always more thoughtful and efficient when people can see and feel your work in-person. That’s why showing anything on your laptop is such a faux pas here. I guess there’ll be no choice once online classes begin.

Honestly, I’m glad I don’t have to commute two hours everyday on the light rail anymore. That would’ve made me a huge risk to my parents, both of whom are over 50 with underlying health conditions. But I’m still uncertain about the quality of online instruction as a design student. Apparently some classes at U.W. will practice social distancing, but how effective is that going to be? Is it even worth the risk? 

In the meantime, I’ll keep working on my projects. I just hope the final results turn out as well as they could have, had I had those last in-person critiques.