Being a First Year During Covid
Disclaimer: The coronavirus has affected many people in more serious ways than taking away much of the first year student experience. I (and all students quoted in this article) am so thankful to be living on campus at Southwestern and appreciate all they have been doing to keep us safe.
This is not how I expected my first few weeks of college to look like. When thinking of college, I pictured class lectures and theme parties– not zoom calls and reusable masks. I was very anxious in the time leading up to move in day, largely because I moved in on a Thursday and my first class wasn’t until Tuesday. I was confused as to what I would be doing for those first four days. Supposedly, there was to be a virtual “Welcome Weekend” of some kind, but the itinerary for this event was very sparse. My mom emailed Southwestern and got a response from Grace Pyka- “Beginning on Saturday, there will be a number of more structured activities, many of which are virtual so she can participate with her roommate”.
As I reread this email, I can’t help but feel somewhat lied to. Besides the one hour residence hall meeting, and the choice between attending a virtual Netflix Party or SU Bingo for an hour and a half… there weren’t any other activities. Although, I do understand Ms. Pyka was just being optimistic about the situation. The first four days in the dorm were extremely isolating. Campus was a ghost town. Besides the brief RA meeting, I did not see anyone in my hall. It was pouring rain outside causing the outdoor seating to be wet. Due to the rain, I ate most meals sitting on the floor of my dorm room with suitemates. The only time I left the room was to go to Target or the dining hall. In those outings, I did not meet anybody, causing me to wonder if my suitemates and I were the only ones on campus. I thought perhaps those people we met in the hall that one night were actors and theorized my suite was in a simulation of some kind. How was it possible that there are 1,400 kids that go to Southwestern, and I never saw more than 5 people on the lawn? Or walking to the dining hall? I felt like I was one of four people on campus.
There was a “Hall Mixer” on Sunday that my suitemates and I attended. The four of us showed up a couple minutes late, and as I began to apologize to my RA for our tardiness, I realized that no one else was there besides us. The room was set up as though there was going to be a standardized test of some kind. The desks were pressed up against the wall on each side of the room and distanced greatly from one another in line. One more girl showed up a few minutes later, but besides that no one else came. Later that day there was the “Pirate Quest,” which was an online competition to see who could complete more random tasks. My suitemates and I began the Pirate Quest but didn’t get very far. It was very obvious the activity was a tactic to keep us busy. I recall one of the activities was to go on Google Earth and look at how many flags were in front of a building. Another was to go on the library’s website and find the oldest book. There was also a prompt to submit a photo wearing a raincoat.
Once classes started, I found it easier to meet people and have been much more social than those tough few days. Other first year students were also disappointed by Southwestern’s lack of community building. Elena Clark said, “I really thought they would do more social distanced activities. It’s all virtual and it’s really awkward to meet people over the computer. From what they sent out it made it seem like we would do more than what we did.” Liana Collins said, “I’m just annoyed that they took away our freshman orientation. It’s been so hard to meet people.”
The first few days (waiting for our test results) we were quarantined in our dorm rooms, and were only to leave for essential activities. I think that this could have been made better with longer hall meetings, and more interaction with kids through zoom calls. The “Speed Friending” event held a couple weeks into school would have been good to have during the first few days. I think the events they did throw were poor attempts at engaging with students. Does Southwestern really think that a bunch of college students want to attend a virtual bingo night? Bingo is a passtime popular amongst the elderly, not 19 year old kids. Do they actually think that we want to click a link and all watch Spiderman virtually together? Why not throw a virtual get to know each other event and put students into breakrooms? What about organizing food trucks to come, and setting up socially distanced seating on the lawn? This could have been done that Saturday, each dorm room floor could have a time to eat. The tables / lawn chairs could be sanitized between each group. Maybe do a drive in movie night somewhere off campus? Each suite could be in their own car and there could be a rule not allowing anyone to get out. It wouldn’t help with meeting others outside our suite, but at least we would have had something to do. Or to ensure accessibility to all students, an outdoor movie night could have been held on the lawn and all students could socially distance. This activity could have been thrown on different nights for different dorms. The first few days would have been much better if there was more face to face interaction.
There are many students who deferred from the first semester and are moving in for the first time in January. I want Southwestern to make the first few days better for those students. I propose we have a redo “Welcome Weekend” next semester. Southwestern could throw a socially distanced version of what our first weekend on campus would have looked like had it not been for covid. Despite my ciritisms, I am so happy to have the opportunity to attend college in person. I am grateful to Southwestern for keeping us safe. I give my feedback in hopes that these things can be done better in the future.