ACC Students and COVID-19

Story by Duncan McIntyre

Edited by Pete Ramirez

We are all still living through one of the most significant periods in human history. Each person you encounter has likely experienced an unexpected change in their own story because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The virus has affected each of us in a unique and perhaps fundamental way.

COVID-19 precautions have forced students and educators to adapt to a novel form of learning dominated by virtual meetings, webcams and Wi-Fi. Students who were already facing the challenges of higher education have had their decisions strained even more by COVID-19 and it’s ripple effects. 

Whether it be financially, mentally, emotionally or even spiritually, the past couple of years have significantly affected us all and as a society we will be recovering from this for years to come.

A decade ago, Michelle McKown was a student at Austin Community College. Ten years later during the fall semester of 2019, McKown returned to complete her undergraduate psychology degree. 

A few months later in March of 2020, ACC shut its doors to in-person learning for the first time and began the transition to online education.

“I started the semester before the world turned upside down,” McKown said.

We can all remember the beginning of quarantine where life became simpler and vastly more complicated all at once. 

For some students, this time away from the hustle and bustle of the world allowed a moment to pause and reflect.

Andres Rodriguez, a high school student taking dual-credit courses at ACC, says he’s not the same person he was when the pandemic began. For some people, Rodriguez said, “it gave them an opportunity to reassess themselves, and figure out where they needed to go and what they needed to do.”

McKown also saw this as an opportunity to do some reassessing of her own. 

“The pandemic forced a restart on me, so I wanted to take advantage of that and not waste this opportunity,” McKown said.

McKown’s restart included decisions on what and who to keep in her life, and what to change. These decisions affected her spirituality and sense of self. 

“What all those choices boil down to is the fact that we, as human beings, are not good at letting go of things that are no longer what they once were,” McKown said.

The new COVID-19 world is a place of contrasts. In some ways it seems some good came out of this period of self-reflection. However, it is undeniable that many experienced great difficulties and losses as well.

Leslie Tejeda, a general studies student at ACC, said she experienced difficulties grasping the material in some classes due to the nature of online learning. Tejeda also said that she experienced, “a lot of isolation, I didn’t even go outside.”

Rodriguez says he is fortunate that he did not personally lose any family members because of the virus. 

“I know a lot of people that lost family – aunts, uncles, grandparents,” Rodriguez said.

From elementary school to graduate university, students have also been learning to adapt to a changing educational environment. This has been easier for some compared to others.

Rodriguez is someone who found classes harder because of the switch to online learning. 

“I took a couple classes online, it was alright, but some of them were more difficult because of their workload,” Rodriguez said. “The cameras in my opinion, aren’t as effective as in-person learning.”

Tejeda was in the same boat and said that not being able to go to class in-person made grasping the concepts taught in class difficult.

On the other hand, there are students, myself included, that think online learning was easier. McKown said that during the pandemic she discovered that she actually preferred taking classes online.

“I love the freedom that online asynchronous learning affords me,” McKown said. “Now I get to work on things in a way that works with my schedule, and I have to say that I really love it, which was a huge surprise for me.”

The past few years have been tough and the end of the pandemic has yet to be seen. We can’t forget that we are in this together. 

McKown offered words of encouragement for those who may still be struggling.

“You are not struggling right now because you aren’t enough, things aren’t hard right now because you’re somehow not strong enough to handle it,” McKown said. “If things feel hard right now, it’s because they’re hard… We have to be kinder to ourselves.”
ACC offers mental health resources to any students who need them. Students can find them at If you need more immediate help, you can call 512-472-HELP (4357)

Mental Health

Written by Ruben Hernandez

Mental health is the foundation of our existence. Not only does our own mental health affect our well-being, it attributes to how we operate, react and feel.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Mental illnesses are categorized into two sections: Any Mental Illness (AMI), and Serious Mental Illness (SMI). AMI covers all of the general mental illnesses, while SMIs are a smaller and more severe subcategory of AMIs.

AMI is defined as any sort of mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder. These disorders can range from a mildly impactive disorder to one that causes severe impairment. As of 2016, there are 44.7 million U.S. adults with AMI, which is 18.3 percent of the U.S. adult population.

SMI is defined as mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder that causes functional impairment and interferes with major life activities. There are 10.8 million U.S. adults with SMI, representing 4.2 percent of the U.S. adult population.

Almost one in five adults over the age of 18 have some sort of mental illness. It seems that mental illnesses are becoming more common and are caused by a variety of factors.

According to a 2014 study by Oxford University, serious mental illnesses can reduce life expectancy by 10 to 20 years. More specifically, the reduction in life expectancy in bipolar disorder, for example, is between nine and 20 years, and seven to 11 years for recurring depression. The reduction of life expectancy among smokers is eight to 10 years. Yet, we publicly recognize smoking as more of a problem than having a form of anxiety or being diagnosed with depression.

So, why don’t we worry about our mental health more often? Part of that answer seems that we don’t want to. There are people who feel no urge to worry about their mental health because it’s a hindrance to their goals. Many, also, tend to push their feelings to the back of their minds. Others believe there isn’t enough time for their emotions, as they are occupied on juggling activities such as work and education.

Those with mental illnesses that are still in school, such as young adolescents, have seen hindered progress towards attaining their education. According to Columbia University, anxiety disorders affect 31.9% percent of all adolescents, and co-occur in one third of depressed youth, and attribute to a reduced likelihood of not attending college. Those with a repeated occurrence of social phobia are almost twice as likely to fail a grade or not finish high school.

One way to help this is acknowledging your mental illness. While that is easier said than done, just being able to recognize the fact that there is something wrong is a step in the process of living and coping with a mental illness.

Those impacted by mental illnesses usually experience it in their own way, so offering solutions like “just go workout” is a gray area.
Counseling, therapy, medication and even service animals are ways to nullify the effects of a mental illness.

However, none of those can totally erase the impact of having an illness. There isn’t a “cure” to mental illness.
We can offer possible solutions to help live and cope with our mental illnesses, but there’s one thing about wanting to ease the impacts of an illness: it’s all a solo journey. You are the person responsible for your own journey, and while others can help and support, it’s all on you to make the decision to overcome  your struggles. So, take a deep breath. Relax. If you find that you might be struggling with any sort of illness or disorder, know that it is okay to feel the way that you do. You are not alone.

If you need assistance, please utilize the counselors at ACC at