Navigating College through the COVID Pandemic: Meet Jarschire Dennis, Richmond Promise Scholar

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Jarschire Dennis is a 2018 graduate of Kennedy High School and a current Richmond Promise Scholar and Summer Associate. Jarschire is finishing up his sophomore year at UC Merced, majoring in Psychology with a minor in philosophy. Read on to learn how Jarschire is navigating school through the COVID pandemic, where he is finding support, and what he visions for the future.

Jarschire Dennis, Richmond Promise Scholar
Kennedy High School, Class of 2018
UC Merced, Class of 2022
Major: Psychology with minor in philosophy

What does it mean to you to be a Richmond Promise Scholar?

What it means to be a Richmond Promise Scholar, is to be part of a community, and if I can go so far, a family that supports you in ways that I don’t think other people always can do. Especially as first generation college students, having a space where people can understand what college is like and give information and a space for support – is beyond great. To be a Richmond Promise Scholar is to be looked after and cared for. In terms of education and making a better life for yourself.

How are you doing overall? How did you feel having to leave Merced early due to the COVID crisis?

At first the transition was a little bit difficult. I have a house on campus, so I have to pay bills and rent over there. It was super hectic because it was only a week to move and also get ready for midterms. Coming back home is more of a financial burden and circumstantial burden. When you’re away from home, the student life is sort of a different life outside of that home life. The two can clash. For example, as a student you need privacy. At home, with a lot of family members, it can be hard to get that much privacy with noise related issues or other issues that may be going on. So juggling all of that was a little stressful at first but as time progressed it has become a bit easier and manageable.

How has it been finishing up this semester?
It’s funny you ask, because I just had a major assignment and project due. My professor said she loved my work and my presentation. I’m feeling a huge relief work, school wise academic wise because of that.

I think I’m finishing this semester strong considering everything that has transpired since spring break amid COVID – having to readjust and juggling school, work, and homelife. Being in a room for literally 12 hours a day because I have to work on my computer has been challenging. I have two jobs – and have to balance that with all of my studying for my 4 classes and midterms.

How are you coping with the crisis? How are you taking care of yourself?

With crisis in particular, there was a period of time when I came back where my sleeping schedule was messed up being in the house and at the computer all day balancing work, classes, and homework. I spend about 12+ hours on the computer so whenever I get the chance, I try to do some relaxation practices either stretching or just breathing and making sure that I’m receiving some fresh air and fresh sunlight.

I think knowing what I know about psychology, being indoors like this can be super stressful for people and bring out some dark spaces in people who already have some dark spaces in their life.

So just making sure you are taking care of yourself and your mental health at this time is one of the best things you can do. I do that by exercising, relaxing, hanging out with my family, and just spending time with me as well. I’ll sit there and read a book, maybe watch netflix and scroll on my phone for a bit. I’m trying to make sure I’m taking care of my personal needs as well.

What needs to be different after the pandemic?
After the pandemic, I think there needs to be major relief for people who are struggling during this time. I think the latest number was 30 million people applying for unemployment? We need to be able to take care of these people and their financial needs during this situation and after this situation. It’s going to take a while for people to get hired again. We need to take care of people financially and also make sure that mental health services are there; ensuring people who are experiencing trauma have an outlet and support system.

What has been your greatest source of support?
Obviously I want to say my family, but I also want to say my work space on campus with the Associate Vice Chancellor and Office for Student Life. Ideally, if I had to spend my best part of my mature years in my 20s and 30’s in any place, my workspace I’m in right now is my most ideal workspace, because not only I can develop my professional skills, but also do work concerning other things I’m interested in, like social justice and working with the Black community at UC Merced. And also having conversations about mental health and things that pertain to the psyche. That’s a great support to me because it feels natural to be in a work space like that. So that’s been one of my greatest supports this year.

What is your advice for incoming and future Scholars who are entering college in this time of uncertainty?

Well I want to say, overall, always still be prepared to make a plan for how you’re going to navigate your life in college. Make sure that you’re good building habits to study. That is never going to change. We’re not all prepared for the workload right away we’re receiving in college. Just make sure as a student you’re taking the initiative yourself and putting yourself in a position where you can handle the college work load.

As it pertains to the crisis specifically, I had a conversation with a student recently and they’re deciding whether they want to go to a 4 year college or a community college because of the pandemic. This is a very deciding time for incoming freshmen.
We really don’t know the turnout of the COVID. If you’re on the edge, it’s a good opportunity to take a bit more exploration with those ideas. Does a four year or community college better suit your needs both financially and academically? What do you actually want? I would say take the time to reflect on how you want your next few years to play out as a college student. Do you want to be able to go to a 4 year and experience that life? Is that your purpose? Or do you have an educational path that requires a certain path? Or are you not sure? I would just say examine those choices, reach out to the Richmond Promise team and those around you who you can talk to, and make the best decision for you right now.

What are your plans for your future?

In the short term, this summer, I’m really focused on self and professional improvement.
I know you hear this from me every summer and all the time, but I think summer is one of the most important times when I can start trying to develop myself more professionally and do other things I love like working with my multimedia skills.

My goal after college is to open up a clinic or a space where I have dialogue with students who come from areas like Richmond and our community. A place to talk about how there are certain factors in our lives that we live that can stop or limit us from achieving things post high school graduation – and how to develop aspirations beyond that. To open up a space where it’s safe to talk about things like that and how to navigate that. Making sure people have aspirations, and making sure people are having conversations about those limitations so they don’t feel like they’re in the boat by themselves.

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