By Kalli Colacino
When Kim Abbas thought about going to college, she expected to sit in a classroom, eat in the dining hall and study in the library. Contrary to her expectations, Abbas, a freshman political science major, spent her first semester of college on a computer in her bedroom. Now she’s living on campus and in her second semester at the College, and she’s just starting to get a taste of the college experience she didn’t have last semester.
“Although the current semester is better than the last, it still is very far from normal and what I had been expecting,” she said.
Freshmen college students all around the world have been experiencing a less-than-normal first year of school. With the majority of colleges being completely remote for the fall 2020 semester, freshmen have had to start college in a way that nobody has before.
With the start of the spring 2021 semester and the implementation of the Spring Flex plan, freshmen are starting to get a taste of what a college experience — beyond the screen — is like.
“I definitely do not feel like a normal college student,” Jessie Bodnar, a visual arts major said. “It’s very weird to see people in person that I have seen over Zoom, and also hard to recognize them with face masks on.”
Now that some freshmen have moved into their dorms and there are even some in-person “flex” classes being held, many students are seeing their friends' faces in real life for the first time.
“Me and the few friends that I have made have not really gotten too many chances to bond since we cannot sit together in a room,” Bodnar said.
Residential housing is at roughly 31% capacity, with about 1,200 students living in single rooms, rather than the traditional “doubles” in which two students share a room. No guests will be permitted in residence halls or in student’s rooms, according to new housing policies and procedures.
Weekly on-campus Covid-19 testing, a daily self-checkup on the ROAR app and social distancing is all required for students who choose to reside on, or visit, the campus, according to the Campus Health and Safety Policy. In addition, study spaces in buildings such as the Brower Student Center and the library have been spaced out to adhere to the six foot social distancing guidelines. All students, staff and faculty are required to wear a mask in the buildings.
“Many efforts have been taken in order to ensure that campus remains as a safe environment for residents,” Abbas said. “The regulations in response to the pandemic that are enforced by the school are crucial in allowing us the opportunity to be on campus to begin with.”
While campus may look and feel a little different from previous semesters, many freshmen are excited to live away from home, interact with fellow students and even study in the library.
“The opportunity to not only socialize but also actually familiarize myself with the college has been the perfect remedy to a less than lackluster first semester,” Abbas said.
Bodnar mentioned how she doesn’t have any in-person “flex” classes, but still chose to live on campus to meet new people and get a taste of the college experience — even if all her classes are remote.
For Yashvi Verma, a freshman biology major, staying at home was the best option for her.
“Most of my classes are still remote instruction,” she said. “Personally, I didn't think it was the best idea to pay for on campus housing when I only plan to attend one flex class.”
Student organizations are still available for students — on campus or not — to participate in. According to the flex plan, organizations may be able to have in-person programs, but must fill out a Risk Assessment and Planning Tool sheet to determine if it is safe to do so.
Christina Tonks — a freshman chemistry major — chose to stay remote and continue taking classes from her bedroom. The majority of her classes are remote only. Since in-person classes and activities are limited, she feels like she wouldn’t miss out on that much by staying home.
“I chose to stay remote this semester because I did not feel comfortable living on campus with the COVID situation,” she said.
Although the College is taking numerous safety precautions for students and employees, Covid-19 continues to be a threat. According to the College’s Covid-19 Dashboard, in the past 14 days (Feb. 7 to Feb. 21), 27 student cases were confirmed on-campus, and 18 were confirmed off-campus.
Whether because of financial reasons or personal preference, many freshmen have decided to embrace online learning and some may even prefer it.
“I like all of my classes and this virtual environment has actually helped me connect with people,” Tonks said. “I have found it is easier to reach out to my classmates by connecting over social media and asking for help.”
For others, meeting people through social media and Zoom classes hasn’t been the best experience. Many students, especially freshmen, are happy that campus is getting back to normal — even though the road ahead is long.
“We are doing whatever we can to still try and make this semester a good experience,” said Bodnar. “As long as everyone follows the rules, we should be able to safely remain on campus.”
After an unusual start to their college experience, freshmen have had to adapt to challenges that no other college class has faced before. From sitting through Zoom classes to participating in clubs and organizations virtually, the class of 2024’s first year at the College is anything but normal.
For Abbas, her second semester at the College is going more like she anticipated the college experience to be like — sitting in a classroom, eating in the dining hall and studying in the library.
“Hopefully things continue to work out in a way that will allow us all to be back on campus in a normal fashion by next year,” she said. “We have to hold onto our hope for the future by making the best of today.”