Student Maegan Cedro is living nearly every major storyline of the pandemic
A UM-Dearborn student opens up about the switch to online classes, working from home, getting laid off, living with a frontline healthcare worker, and coronavirus-fueled discrimination against Asian Americans.
A few weeks back when we chatted with senior Maegan Cedro, the topic for the day’s interview was ostensibly to profile her as a 2020 UM-Dearborn Difference Maker. But it’s hard not to also talk about everything else that’s going on — especially when, as Maegan does, you find yourself living many of the major themes defining the American experience of the pandemic. Pivoting to online classes; working from home, then losing her co-op and struggling to figure out if she can collect unemployment; living with her mom, a nurse, who’s working everyday with COVID patients; and facing down a new wave of discrimination and violence against Asian Americans are among the topics Maegan was kind enough to open up about in a follow-up phone call last week. Here’s our conversation, which has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
The Reporter: So I definitely want to hear about what’s gone on in the past week, but before we do that, take me back to when you first remember this coronavirus thing starting to affect you and your family.
Maegan Cedro: So actually, my first experience with COVID was the beginning of February. We are a family of travelers, and we were in Hawaii at the time, and when we were there, there was one person with a confirmed case who had traveled to Hawaii. It hadn’t really hit the U.S. yet, but it was still a little scary because we instantly started thinking about whether we might have been in the airport during the same days and could have gotten sick. Then, a couple weeks later, I went to Chicago for one of our Filipino American student events. We often hang out in Chinatown, and it was eerie because Chinatown was completely deserted. Then, a couple weeks after, like in early March, I went to Toronto for a business competition. And at that point, there were 20 confirmed cases in Toronto, so they wanted all the students to stay in the hotel, just in case. When I came home, a couple friends who went to the conference with me had fevers and ended up quarantining. So right from the start, I’m thinking, ‘This is real, I could have easily been exposed.’
The Reporter: And I’m guessing it was right after that that the university announced all classes were going online for the rest of the semester. How’s that been going so far?
Maegan: It’s definitely been an adjustment. At first, you’re thinking, how is this going to work? I’ve taken several online classes, but they’ve always been gen-ed or electives like anthropology or philosophy. None of the undergraduate engineering classes have ever been available online, so it’s a really unprecedented situation. To be honest, some classes are going better than others. In two of my classes, the professor is recording the lectures and then answering any questions you have via email, but I just don’t think I'm retaining the information nearly as well. I don’t know if it’s being able to ask questions in person, or the kinematics of taking notes while the lectures are happening, but I’m just not doing as well in those classes compared to before. Two of my other classes, though, the professor is doing the lectures live on Zoom, and I feel like those may be going even better than before. In one of those, the professor will randomly call on you in the middle of the class, so it keeps you on your toes. Honestly, it’s been really nice because I have this incentive now to actually learn the material and know what I’m talking about so I don’t look dumb in front of the whole class [laughs]. I didn’t know what to expect from online engineering classes, but I’d say for this particular class, the quality is the same or even better.
It’s huge for us, though, that the university is allowing students to take a pass/fail grade for this semester’s classes. A lot of my friends were in a big group chat when we got that email, and we were all, like, ‘thank god, we were all so worried.’ Now we can get our final grades at the end of the semester, and at that point, you can decide if you want to take a pass/fail credit. That way, the classes will still count toward graduation, but it won’t affect your GPA. We were all having a lot of anxiety about that.
The Reporter: I know you’re also doing an engineering co-op right now, and when we talked last week, your employer was letting you work from home. What’s the latest on that?
Maegan: Well, actually, right after we got off the phone, I got a call from my boss and I did get laid off. Losing out on that experience is not great, of course, but for a lot of us, we depend on our internships to pay the bills. The other thing, and this has been the case with some of my cousins and other friends who have internships, is we haven’t been able to qualify for unemployment. I’ve never had to file for unemployment before, so I’m not an expert, but the email I got said that because I was only working part-time and I’m a full-time student, I’m not eligible. On top of that, a lot of us still live with our parents so we’re still considered dependents. So we don't get the $1,200 economic stimulus either. So thinking now about tuition for summer classes and fall, it’s been really stressful. I’m lucky that my parents always made me put away six to eight months of emergency funds, so I should be good for a while. And I just got word that my summer internship in California is still on, but they’re pushing it back to June. Honestly, though, if it’s 12 weeks instead of 16 weeks at this point, I’ll take it. On the whole, though, the financial stress of this situation has been more consuming than the academic stress.
The Reporter: I wanted to ask you about your family too. When we talked last time, you mentioned you have a bunch of family who work in healthcare, including our mom, who’s a nurse. How’s she and everyone else doing?
Maegan: My mom is doing well, surprisingly. She’s really good under pressure, and she has a really great support system at work. Basically, all my family pretty much work at the same hospital, so they have each other to talk to. It’s been scary too, though, because a woman who my mom works with, who’s one of her best friends, tested positive and is now on a ventilator. Honestly, just listening to her and my aunts, it’s crazy to me that they can still come home and cook dinner and smile every day. A lot of the cousins, who don’t work in the healthcare space, have been group chatting with all the nurses to make sure everyone has supplies and dinner for the day. So it’s been really good for our family to keep those connections strong.
At home, my mom isn’t practicing too much social distancing with us. She basically takes a shower when she gets home from work, and then we’re good about washing our hands and not touching our faces. But because we’ve all had early exposure to friends who’ve tested positive, we’re almost assuming we’ve all had it at this point. I know some of my aunts, though, are living in their basements and basically not coming into contact with their kids. One of my cousins has really young kids and she doesn’t want to have any contact with her kids. It’s really hard because they aren’t old enough to understand yet, and all they want to do is climb all over their mom when she gets home.
The Reporter: I know you’re really active in your local Filipino American community, and also nationally with a Filipino American student group. The last thing I wanted to ask you about was this wave of discrimination and violence against Asian Americans. How are you doing with that personally, and how is everyone processing that within the communities you’re active in?
Maegan: This was actually a huge topic in a recent meeting with our national student group. One of the things we talked about was how it doesn’t help that Asians are typically looked at as the “model minority.” We’re perceived as quiet and demure and people who don’t speak up a lot. And that’s made us an easy target in some ways. I mean, last week in Texas a whole family was stabbed, including a 2-year-old. It’s absolutely terrifying. Yesterday was the first time I went out to get groceries, and I don’t know if it was just because I was anxious to be out in public, but it felt like people were looking at me. It’s definitely been one of the reasons I haven’t been leaving my house.
I’m honestly scared, and I’ve never felt this way before. Growing up in my Filipino community, I’ve always felt so safe. I mean, we’ve discussed historical things, like how Japanese internment camps happened during World World II, but I realize now I’ve never experienced outward racism myself. So it’s been really unsettling, because it’s 2020, ya’ll. It just shows you how deep this racism goes. And it’s really hard because the older generation just kind of wants to keep their heads down, ignore it, and go on with their lives. And I can’t say that’s wrong, because I don’t know what they’ve gone through. But at the same time, I’ve noticed younger Asian Americans are using their voices. They’re saying, ‘No, you shouldn’t be putting up with that.’ It’s a huge generational divide, and we talk about it all the time. You can’t be quiet anymore. There’s no reason to be quiet. We have a voice and we’d better use it. We’re here. We’re Americans, and we need to teach these people that we’re Americans.