The events of the 2020 spring semester have continued to play a major role in the beginning chapter of Fall 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic notably changed campus life for students last year, resulting in in-person classes being canceled mid-March and students being sent home in order to prevent the possibility of on-campus spread of the virus. While administrators were initially hopeful that students would be able to return to campus to finish out the year, students were informed on March 16 that the college would transition to remote learning for the remainder of the academic year. While devastating to all students, the news was taken particularly hard by the graduating class, whose commencement was postponed until May 2021.
The guidelines for the 2020 academic year are being updated regularly, with Campus Health faithfully emailing students, faculty and family every week since the initial outbreak. Despite the rigorous email campaign, however, there remains a fair amount of confusion and frustration in the public’s understanding of how to proceed with daily life under the strange conditions. These frustrations exist largely in the situational gray areas, with new rules being enforced regarding things such as food from a community box or baggie, the realities of trying to eat food outside and trying to travel on the weekends. Staying six feet apart, wearing masks at all times on campus (with several exceptions) and the cancellation of major sporting events make the college experience strikingly different from what first-year students imagined. But the reality of college under COVID has dramatically influenced upperclassmen as well.
There is anxiety surrounding how the final chapters of the college experience will unfold for many. Students are hyper-aware that graduation will likely be postponed again, and they may never see some classmates after May. It is undeniably true that this creates tension, prompting many students to weigh the shared risk of the community with their personal desires to enjoy the full company of their friends with guidelines neglected. Another looming question has also been making the rounds, both at Hope and in the education sector as a whole: “Are we really going to make it all the way through this fall on campus?”
The necessities of social distancing and controlled learning environments has left many clubs unable to meet at all, such as Power-Lifting Club. Some extracurriculars such as Swing Club have managed to provide an experience that adheres to the new guidelines, despite all odds. Swing Club president Christian Forester (’21) provided the following statement when asked about how the new rules have affected the organization: “Swing Club is a social dancing club, which goes against the spirit of social distancing. We have had to rethink the way we do our dances, both in how we dance and set them up to make them safe and fun. We can no longer dance in pairs, and we’ve set up zones for each person to dance in instead. We have to wear masks the whole time and can only dance outside because we are over 10 people. Despite that, we had over 30 people at our first event and had a wonderful time, better than anticipated.”
Gonzalo Moya (’21) typified the feelings of many students, remarking that while the majority of his classes felt manageable, a hybrid format for one of the lectures felt not quite compatible. He was generally optimistic about the protocols Hope put in place, particularly testing. But, like others, he had no misconceptions about the probability that measures would become ineffective if off-campus interactions become an issue: “You can have a testing center at each hallway of the school, but if you do not control the off-campus parties that go on sometimes, then that is just never going to do anything. There is a time and a place for people to just be having fun and being, I should say, irresponsible . . . I think if people took the collective risk of it more seriously, then things perhaps wouldn’t be so messed up.” Moya also commented wisely that while a rigorously tested and approved vaccine would be advantageous, the danger of introducing an underdeveloped vaccine could be tremendous. For those students who are looking to a potential vaccine as a silver lining, this is another important consideration.
It remains to be seen what the future holds in regard to the COVID-19 measures. While strong decreases in infection rates and the possibility of a vaccine hold promise, most students are seemingly content to obey the guidelines, manage their risks and channel their frustration into finding creative ways to remain connected during a challenging semester. The spirits of the student body remain anchored in the bedrock principle that Hope is, even in this time, a caring and high-spirited community.