As the Pandemic Continues, College Students Return to a Different Campus

Codi Saxon

A class is conducted by a instructor wearing a face mask on the steps outside the classroom on the campus at State University of New York at Stony Brook. (Photo by J. Conrad Williams Jr./Newsday RM via Getty Images) EDITOR’S NOTE:&nbspThis story was produced for Student Nation, a program of […]

EDITOR’S NOTE:&nbspThis story was produced for Student Nation, a program of The Nation Fund for Independent Journalism dedicated to highlighting the best of student journalism. For more Student Nation, check out our archive or learn more about the program here. StudentNation is made possible through generous funding from The Puffin Foundation. If you’re a student and you have an article idea, please send pitches and questions to [email protected]

Colleges and universities nationwide have reopened for in-person learning and students are grappling with an environment very different from the one they left. The administrative response to Covid has varied coast to coast, with some institutions mandating vaccinations, others requiring masks indoors, and still others simply offering recommendations. All students are dealing with new classroom guidelines and procedures, while many are experiencing on-campus life for the first time. To better understand the changes, we asked a range of students to tell us how Covid is impacting their college experience, including student organizing efforts for equity and justice.

In May of 2020, I submitted the last final exam of my undergraduate education from my childhood bedroom. I graduated in my parent’s kitchen, watching my school’s president congratulate my class through Zoom. That fall I began a PhD program in political science at CUNY Graduate Center. I have now started my second year and all my classes are online. After a full year in the program, I have still only seen my professors and the members of my cohort through a screen.

While participating in virtual classes I often find myself craving socialization and peer interaction. I think about how, before Covid, I took this aspect of education for granted. I’ve been lucky to have professors who put in the extra effort to make my learning experience seem as “normal” as possible, scheduling time before and after class meetings for students to talk and try to get to know each other. Although this has helped slightly, I still find the conversations forced and uncomfortable.

Despite these misgivings, Covid has helped improve my academic experience in a few ways. It is much easier to attend class if I’m sick or not feeling well, and I can take or teach classes from anywhere in the world with an Internet connection. More importantly, Covid has highlighted important preexisting disparities within our society. The virus has sparked meaningful conversations about equity and justice in numerous sectors of public life, such as education, housing, health care, and workers’ rights. More people are starting to see how our government systems can often ignore our nation’s most vulnerable populations, even amid a pandemic. I hope that these discussions continue, and eventually lead to positive change.

–​​Cassidy Morales, City University of New York

A year and a half after the Covid pandemic first forced us to leave campus, the separation from my friends and fellow fossil fuel divestment organizers still feels like an expectation. Even as I embrace the long-awaited opportunity to share physical space with my peers on returning to campus—made possible by my university community’s high rate of vaccination and level of access—I remain keenly aware that we may have to adapt our plans for strategy meetings, information sessions, and public demonstrations at any moment. The reality of the ever-spreading Delta variant and general uncertainty around what this pandemic holds for the future loom in the background of the “normal” pre-pandemic life on campus many of us want so desperately to reclaim.

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