In September 2021, after two heavy rainstorms, Baltimore welcomed its fall season. Now, in the beginning of October, leaves have started turning yellow, winds are blowing harder and people are piling on a few more pieces of winter wear. These are just a few of the many observations I make as I stroll around campus to go to classes each day.
But the biggest change I continue to “whoa” at, even after a full month of classes, is the sheer number of people on campus. For context, I’m a third-year student who was on campus back in 2019. While it feels like the campus community just got a lot more vibrant after an entire year of COVID-19 stillness, the hubbub, as I would call it, stirs me in a different, lonely way. I’ve lost the feelings of tranquility, peace and belonging at Hopkins.
To give you some context, I was among the few students who stayed around campus throughout the entire fall, spring and summer of the 2020-21 school year.
Throughout the entire year, I hung out with the same group of fewer than ten people. Some of them stayed in Baltimore because they don’t have family in the United States. Others, like me, simply enjoyed living on their own and with friends. After securing an off-campus rental unit online in August, I flew to Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and started living independently as a 19-year-old.
With our windows facing directly onto St. Paul Street, we saw Charles Village quieter than ever. Some shops and restaurants were temporarily closed, and there was barely anyone walking on the street. It was mildly better than a ghost town.
In search of some entertainment other than visiting each other’s apartments, my friend and I started exploring Homewood Campus. It is actually much larger than we originally thought. We skipped the usual stops of Brody Learning Commons, Gilman Hall and Hackerman Hall. Our goal was to check out some less frequently visited buildings and to really experience the breadth of the community.
“Did you know we have a whole wild garden behind the main campus?” my physics major friend asked me before taking me there for a surprise tour of the scenery. She used to complain about waking up early to walk to the Bloomberg Center for Physics & Astronomy. But at that moment, she missed the routine of going to in-person classes.
On many nights, my friends and I climbed up to different rooftops to check out the beautiful moon and stars. I thought, “Only if Shakespeare or Pushkin were here, their poems would’ve been inspired to be much more peaceful and charming.” We were mesmerized by the expanse of the darkness and the beautiful views of the quads, then empty but previously filled with people playing frisbee. Now, the quads are our picnic tables! The other day, we saw another group like us that was playing mafia at the faculty parking building. How young and reckless!
The campus was our playground. Every once in a while, a few of us would grab our Uber Eats and eat on campus under the beautiful sunset. There was no one to walk by, to crash into or to wave awkward hellos to. The campus was ours, and we really owned it.
Then gradually, people started to come back. Some then-freshmen populated Charles Commons. A couple of restaurants and places were planning their debuts, such as Kung Fu Tea and Busboys and Poets. It was clear that the community was revitalizing. But I felt a sense of nostalgia for those of us who were there at “the beginning.” I felt I was losing hold of the campus I was so used to wandering around.
Fast forward to October 2021, and we have mostly gone back to normal. The campus is everything we’ve hoped to experience: the vibrancy, hubbub, livelihood, you name it. Occasionally, I see someone from two years ago. But the campus is running as usual. Cycles of sunrise and sunsets continue to spread light to the quads, illuminating those who play Frisbee and lounge in the Adirondack chairs.
While I renew my old tradition of climbing up to the rooftop to observe, I realize one thing: the campus is still ours.
Tangya Tan is a junior from Shanghai, China majoring in International Studies.