Congratulations – we’ve made it through another year of college during a pandemic. This is no small feat, and being a student as the world tries to keep it together is an emotional rollercoaster.
Nationally, the mental health of college students and adolescents in general is declining, which experts have recognized as an epidemic in its own right. Hopkins is known for having a strenuous academic environment, and COVID-19 has only added to the amount of stress we face. As we continue to navigate these ever-evolving challenges, we must show ourselves compassion. If you’re feeling tired, burnt out or just off, know that these emotions are valid and you’re not alone.
We at The News-Letter want to take a moment to recognize everything that the Hopkins community has been through this past year.
This fall, we arrived in Baltimore after over a year of the pandemic. Some were eager to reunite with friends and experience the campus they had known before COVID-19; others were arriving in Charles Village for the first time, excited and nervous to get to know the place and the people they would call home for the next few years.
Of course, if there’s one thing our college experience has been, it’s unpredictable. It often feels like we are on the path back to “normal” — whatever that means now — but taking only one step forward and two steps back at a time. Just when we had settled back into a routine of in-person classes, late nights in Brody, awkward campus run-ins and long CharMar lines, the Omicron variant upended plans for the spring semester.
Instead of easing back into familiar patterns following winter break, our return was marked by stress and chaos. Students arrived on campus to increased COVID-19 testing requirements and strict move-in guidelines after adjusting travel plans to accommodate a virtual Intersession.
Despite the rocky start, Blue Jays were excited to experience a normal spring break last month, most of us for the first time. However, our relaxation was short-lived; we returned to Baltimore to rising COVID-19 cases and heightened safety protocols once again. Students who tested positive were sent to isolate in hotels across Baltimore — an important precaution, but still a lonely experience that can take a mental toll.
As masking and testing requirements are instated, rescinded and reinstated, it can be hard to keep track of what is expected of us. Moreover, it is hard to stay optimistic when COVID-19 numbers do fall, as it can feel like we are just waiting for the next inevitable spike.
Even as we inch closer to the new “normal,” the pandemic is having lasting impacts on student life. Hopkins isn’t exactly known for its school spirit, and COVID-19 took away many of the opportunities that might have bolstered it. As a result, there’s a notable lack of student community and involvement on campus. The Committee on Student Elections (CSE) reported that only 20.3% of students participated in the Student Government Association (SGA) elections last month, and the true numbers are even lower because of CSE’s miscalculation. Whether the low voter turnout is due to students’ apathy or SGA’s lack of visibility, the data is definitely concerning.
This diminished sense of community is especially hard on underclassmen, who haven’t had the same chances as previous classes to find their niche at Hopkins. With many large introductory courses held on Zoom last semester, new students missed out on organic peer-to-peer interactions and may have found it difficult to make friends. Students also found joining campus organizations difficult; some expressed that they didn’t feel motivated to participate in clubs with online meetings due to Zoom fatigue.
For upperclassmen, the pandemic was a jarring interruption in their college careers. Though the Class of 2022 will graduate in less than a month, some seniors say they still feel like freshmen. We’re glad they’ve been able to enjoy some in-person activities like the Met Gala; that being said, only a portion of the class could attend due to COVID-19-related capacity restrictions.
While the future is uncertain, we’re grateful for the glimpses of normalcy we’ve seen this semester, whether they be a five-minute chat with friends after class or seeing a favorite professor’s face in the classroom again. From now on, we won’t take these everyday moments for granted.
College is stressful at the best of times, and we’ve had a pretty difficult past couple of years. So please, before you spend all of reading period under the fluorescent lights of C-level, cut yourselves some slack. Take a break. Go to Spring Fair. You’ve more than earned it.