After nearly a year and a half of online semesters, students and faculty returned to campus on August 30. Courses were delivered online, in-person or a hybrid of both.
In an email to The News-Letter, sophomore Christina Im expressed her delight in coming to campus for the first time.
“It feels good to finally come to campus and be with fellow students,“ she wrote. “Being in a campus environment itself is a crucial part of the college experience, so I’m grateful even though I don’t have many classes in person.”
With the previous semesters online, this fall semester is the first in-person experience for many sophomores. Sophomore Sadie Friesen was excited to finally meet the people she had only met online face to face.
“It’s been such a great week seeing friends and people I hadn’t seen in a really long time. I finally got to hang out with friends who I have never actually met,” she said. “Meeting professors in person has been exciting too — something I didn’t even realize I was missing.”
Freshmen, International students and transfer students went through Orientation Week from August 22 to August 29, while sophomores were offered Second-year Onboarding events from August 26 to August 29. Im believes that sophomores should be given more support due to their lack of in-person first-year experience.
“I wish current sophomores who have never been to campus are given more welcoming events like the freshmen. I had to navigate many aspects of campus life by myself or with other friends,” she wrote. “We got little guidance even though we have the same amount of campus experience as the freshmen.”
Friesen echoed this sentiment, saying she still feels like a freshman in some ways. She recalled that she felt lost because people expected her to know her way around campus even though it was her first time.
In an email to The News-Letter, Professor of Sociology Stephen Morgan described his enthusiasm over bringing back active class discussions.
“Both of my in-person classes went well, and I was pleased that facemasks did not seem to get in the way of our discussions,” he wrote. “Overall, I think that classes that are discussion-based are far better as in-person classes.”
Morgan remarked that there were some unanticipated benefits of the past online semesters which he decided to keep in his in-person lectures. However, restructuring his courses for Zoom delivery was a lot of hard work and he hopes that he never has to do it again.
In an email to The News-Letter, Director of Undergraduate Studies in Anthropology Naveeda Khan noted that she has come to appreciate the benefits the online format brings to large speaker events and discussions.
“I am utilizing Zoom in planning seminars and talks for a little later in the semester. Although the university is going to allow external speakers in in-person events for below 50 attendees, I have come to appreciate the capacity of zoom to capture a wider, even global audience for the events I was putting on. I want to retain this even as things open further,” she wrote.
She also recalled some technical difficulties she faced on the first day of classes.
“The server in Gilman crashed. We couldn't launch our powerpoint presentation and had to call in IT to get their help which made for a rocky start,“ she wrote. “I am hopeful that these are merely hiccups and that the second week will be smoother.”
The University took many safety precautions to allow the campus to reopen this semester. For example, students are required to upload proof of vaccination, test weekly and stay masked indoors. However, concerns remain amid the rise of the COVID-19 Delta variant.
In her email, Khan reflected on COVID-19 safety concerns regarding certain classroom arrangements.
“Although we have been provided every assurance that air circulation is good and that our chances of contracting [COVID-19] not that high, just the habit of precaution instilled by the past year and half made me nervous that we were in the basement of Gilman in a classroom with no windows in close quarters to one another,” she wrote. “It will take some time to get comfortable with such circumstances.”
With the scope of the COVID-19 pandemic constantly shifting, the University’s safety guidelines have also been persistently updated. Psychological & Brain Sciences Instructor Chris Kraft described his confusion about following the continually changing safety guidelines while remaining respectful of students.
“During a class, I felt a little self-conscious taking my mask off to drink water, but I think the guidelines say as long as you've got some distancing you can take your mask off to drink,” he said. “I want to be respectful and not make anyone uncomfortable.”
In an email to The News-Letter, Professor of History John Marshall marveled at the resilience of the vibrant student community despite such struggles. He was surprised at the quality of the work his students produced even though their classroom environment had been confined to their screens.
He added that he was immensely grateful to finally depart from the online classroom and be able to physically engage with the students.
“It has been a joy to have students ruffle through pages in class when they think I’ve missed something important — as I had — and to carry 12 feet long images of London into class with me to talk about how we experience and depict urban spaces,” he wrote.